When I was in fourth grade at a Jewish day school, my dad had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The day school was part of the temple where my father presided as the senior Rabbi, a magisterial position which garnered fear and respect from staff, students and teachers.
As a result of this situation, my family went through the trials of his cancer treatment in public, with thousands of sympathetic spectators. Every progress and setback was immediately common knowledge among the ranks of temple members, their families and the community at large. Teachers were willing to grant me exceptions from classes (where I barely turned in homework and was generally distracted) because they were well aware of my father's medical condition through the gossip grapevine.
When my dad finished chemotherapy and we got the news that he was in remission, the community rejoiced with us. My family was showered with hugs, prayers, and gifts. However, despite my parents' adamant refusal and discomfort, a common sentiment accompanying these expressions of support and celebration were the words, "God must have saved your dad."
When I got older and abandoned many religious beliefs I had been taught in childhood, I began to detest this phrase. If people believed God saved my dad, it must have been for a reason. As I looked around at friends and family who weren't as lucky, people who were close to me who didn't recover, I became increasingly angry. Does this mean that they didn't deserve to be saved?
Although it was clear that nobody meant any ill will by this expression, I came to see this idea as cruel. To assume that God chooses some to save and not others is a harsh and unfeeling thing for someone who has lost a loved one to cancer or any tragedy. While everyone is entitled to their beliefs, to impose 'earned' miracles on people who survive illness suggests strongly that some are not worthy of surviving, that God has a wiser plan than we could understand which damns our loved ones and salvages strangers.
I do not believe that tragedies like disease have a wiser purpose. I believe that they are random misfortunes, and that those who survive are the lucky ones. It is easier to believe that they have a purpose. Facing ultimate chaos is extremely daunting. However, when we accept this belief, we put all of humanity in the same boat sailing blindly into an unknown abyss. It may be terrifying, but we are all in it together, with none of us divinely selected for salvation. Instead, we support each other through the hardest parts of life-- illness and death.
Although it is less comforting to believe in randomness, I take heart in the fact that it is at least kinder, more courageous, and true.
People meant to make me feel reassured, as though my dad's reaction to chemotherapy was divinely foretold. But as I speak with friends whose family loses their battles and their lives, and as I see chaos and death unfold sickeningly throughout the world today, I am not. I would rather be in solidarity with humanity than to seek comfort in an inexplicable divine plan.