When Bad Things Happen
We’re house sitting for friends in North Vancouver so the mornings have been long and lazy, full of novels and coffee and games with the kids and sunshine on the patio overlooking Indian Arm, and more coffee… It’s been wonderful.
Yesterday, my morning reverie was interrupted by a few soft knocks on the door. At first I didn’t even hear them, so faint was the sound they made, but they were persistent. Eventually I clued in that those faint sounds at the door meant that, you know, someone was there and that this someone who was there probably wanted me to come to the door to see what they wanted.
I opened the door and saw two faces beaming back at me, a thirty something year old woman and a young girl, perhaps eight or nine. I quickly glanced at the bibles and other resources in their hands and inwardly sighed, bracing myself for the sales pitch.
“Good morning sir, I don’t want to disturb you for long, but I just have one question for you: “When bad things happen, do you have a hope that can sustain you?” I looked blankly at her for a minute. Doesn’t she know I’m on holidays?! Doesn’t she know that I don’t want to think about bad things here? Doesn’t she know about the sun-drenched patios and second pots of coffee and juicy mindless novels and afternoons frolicking in the ocean? Doesn’t she know that I’m in no mood to think about hope for when bad things happen?! Sheesh.
Instead of rehearsing this inner monologue, I simply smile and say, “Yes, I do have such a hope. We are all committed Christians in this house.” I’m hoping that she will interpret these words as I intend them, which is to say, “I’m not really interested in further conversation here, and you’re free to move on now.” But she’s still smiling, still talking, unsheathing a bunch of resources that she will no doubt soon cheerfully be dispensing to me. And the little girl still stands, silently, behind her.
She’s reading to me from the Bible now, somewhere in the book of Romans. Her face is very kind and sincere, and I really want to pay attention to the words she’s speaking. But I can’t stop looking at the little girl standing shyly behind her. She looks sad, somehow, or bored or something. I wonder what she is thinking. I wonder about why people would drag small children around strange neighbourhoods to talk to strange people about hope for when bad things happen. I wonder about what that does to a kid. I wonder if perhaps I’m the crazy one for thinking this is as crazy as it is.
The woman closes her bible and looks at me expectantly. “Isn’t that a great verse?” she asks, wide eyes imploring me to agree with her. “Yes, it is.” I say, barely having heard a word. “Thank you.” She smiles, broadly. “Would it be ok if I left some reading material for you?” “Yes, that would be fine,” I say. Her smile widens as a few copies of The Watchtower and Awake! make their way into my hands. “Have a wonderful day,” she beams, as she turns to leave. I thank her again, looking past her to the little girl. She’s not smiling. She doesn’t look eager or expectant or anything really. I try to catch her gaze, but she just looks past me, then turns to follow the woman out into the street.
I take a quick glance at the headlines before throwing the magazines in the recycling. “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” “When Tragedy Strikes, How Can You Cope?” I look out at the sun-drenched morning and think of the news from the morning paper. I think of the killing and chaos in Gaza, of murdered fathers of Nigerian schoolgirls, of passenger airlines being blown out of the sky over Ukraine, of the countless other ways that the world daily convulses under the weight and pressure of so many bad things.
The absurdity of it all strikes me again. For everything there is a season, the Teacher famously said. Yes, but the seasons seem so unevenly distributed. A season for children dying because of grinding, intractable centuries-long conflict and a season for leisurely vacations. A season for the abduction and abuse of schoolgirls and a season for sun and sand. A season for blood and bombs and guns and a season for sitting on patios in North Vancouver and write about holiday interruptions by people who want to talk about hope.