by Beth Mund
“Shit happens.” I remember seeing this saying on a bumper sticker and loving it. I have always felt its accuracy in describing life. Today, when I scan the news and take in the problems of the world, I find myself repeating these profound words—shit happens. It is true. But we have a choice.
While opening my news app this morning, the first thing I read was about a tragic death—a head-on collision involving two mums and six kids. Nobody survived, including the driver who caused the accident.
As I looked up from my phone, I could feel the darkness, the rabbit hole egging me on to jump in. In that moment, I had a choice. I could continue reading through the problems of our world, or I could look up, take in the beautiful sky welcoming the traces of clouds dancing by, birds flying between trees, the sun shining upon the green grass, the innocence of children, so filled with love, and how it is a miracle just to be alive.
We all have a choice. We can concentrate on the shit or the miracles, dwell in the darkness or the light. It is all out there for the noticing—the miracles and the shit.
I am only so readily able to do this, to forgo the negative, because of how often I used to dwell there. Still, I slip. I forget. I get lost in a problem or a tragedy. It is an old pattern—to become entrenched in fear or worry—and it is something I have observed in my parents, and so many others.
However focusing on a miracle, while becoming gracious and humble, is also a pattern that we can cultivate.
I am certain that, if we thought we had a choice, we would all choose to focus on the miracles. Yet, we believe we have no choice. We think we have to blindly follow the news reports, allow our minds to wander down the rabbit holes of worries and what-ifs, and accept the conditioning that has been handed to us as if it were truth.
We Have A Choice
It was over two years ago that a miracle was brought into my life. It was so blatant that I could not have missed it if I tried. It changed everything for me. It was the moment I knew I had a choice and that I was not victim to the news reports or my conditioning.
It was 4 p.m. The day was unusually hot for the beginning of summer. The phone rang. As a parent, picking up the phone and hearing your child in tears and unable to speak fills you with panic. With my heart in my throat, I asked what was going on. In between sobs, my daughter was trying to give me the pieces of a story, one that included an ambulance, a child, and a beautiful afternoon at a lake turned horrific in the blink of an eye.
The story, which I finally got out of my daughter, began like any other summer afternoon. Many families had gathered by the lake for a few hours of fun, swimming, and barbecue. My daughter was there babysitting a three-year-old girl.
As they were getting ready to swim, a mother came screaming by the edge of the water—she could not find her seven-year-old boy. It seemed he had disappeared, and they feared the worst—that he had wandered into the water.
The first miracle: fire department first responders happened to be close that day. Along with a nurse and lifeguards, they all sprang into action, combing the lake.
Almost 10 minutes had passed when the second miracle happened.
One of the responders accidentally stepped on the boy, who was face down in five feet of water, unconscious. They performed all necessary medical procedures and rushed him off to the hospital. Things did not look good.
“He drowned! I saw them pull him from the lake,” my daughter’s words rang in my head for days as I obsessively scanned the obituaries and the local news. I found nothing. Her sadness cut deep into my heart.
Tragedy, death, and accidents are the shit that happens, and as parents we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this dark reality of life. We know it happens, but we just want to keep our distance for as long as possible. We want to fill everyone we know up with cotton candy, laughter, and bear hugs. We want to keep them safe and happy.
Yet, life is unexpected, and we cannot control what happens to us or to others. We can hope and pray that our loved ones are safe, that we don’t witness the ‘shit’, but sooner or later it is right in front of us. We hear about a famous actor committing suicide, a cancer diagnosis, or a teen passing on from a car accident.
But death is a part of life, whether we think about it or not. We cannot protect anyone from the shit.
And maybe the point isn’t to try to control and protect. Perhaps the point is how we respond and how we choose to spend our time. We can choose to love, see the miracles when they are brought into our lives, dwell in gratitude instead of misery, and allow ourselves to feel through the shit when it happens.
Four to six weeks after that call from my daughter, she took off on a three-week trip to Tanzania. Her heart was still aching for that boy, but her zest for travel and discovery was healing the sadness and carrying her on. On a whim, I texted the family she had been babysitting for that fateful day, asking if they had heard anything further about that boy. I received this response: “If you talk to Lia, tell her the boy survived. No brain damage at all. A true miracle. His name is Nicholas.”
We have all heard the saying that bad things come in threes. So do miracles.
We all have a choice to stop, breathe, notice, and make a different choice. It takes practice, but it is possible. Whenever I find myself pulled into the messiness of life, the darkness and the void of the rabbit hole, I think of Nicholas, and my heart opens.
Life is beautiful and amazing, and Nicholas is a wonderful reminder of the miracles that happen every day in life.
Shit does happen, but not always. If we’re keeping score, there are far more happy moments, amazing sights, incredible acts of courage, loving connections, and even miracles in life.
The next time we find ourselves looking down into that rabbit hole of worry or fear, we can look up, consider whether we want to focus on the shit or the miracles, and remember Nicholas. I do.