Life's Persistent "Why?"

(death and dying, 9)

One evening, Josephine Butler, the great social benefactress, was attending a party. At home, Evangeline, her only daughter, eagerly awaited her return. Upon hearing the crunching of her mother’s carriage wheels on the gravel drive before their home, the little girl ran to the balustrade, leaned over it to wave to her mother, lost her balance, fell, and in a second lay dead with a broken neck at her mother’s feet. Josephine Butler could not speak. She was unable to cry. She stood there stunned, paralyzed with grief, muttering: “My God, why?”

Suffering like death and dying, of which it is a part, is as old as human history. It has haunted the hearts and minds of men and women down through the centuries, and we have clamored for an explanation. Throughout the length and breadth of the world, men and women who have suffered, who have experienced something of what John Keats called “the giant agony of the world,” have turned their face toward heaven and hurled the cry: “My God, why?” A mother stands at the bedside of an only child stricken with disease and asks: “Why?” A husband watches his wife grow weaker day by day from the ravages of cancer and asks: “Why?” A young father dies of a heart attack, leaving behind two small children, and the widow asks: “Why?” Storms like Katrina hit our shores, and we ask, “Why?” Wars bring unmeasured suffering, and humanity asks: “Why?”

We will never be completely free of suffering. “Why?” will remain for the time being “an ultimate question.”

When there is no longer a cyclone, there is no

longer an eye. So the storms, crises and sufferings

of life is a way of finding the eye. When

everything is going against us, then we find

the eye.       

-       Bernadette Roberts


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