What Can I Do?

Dearest Rachel –

So, last night we wrapped up Colossians in our Bible study. Joel had everybody go over what each of us thought was the most individually significant part of the last four lessons. For my part, what struck me was the last section of the third chapter, where Paul talks about various responsibilities within the family structure, and how those in and under authority need to act towards each other.

In summary, those under authority – wives, children, servants/employees (yes I know it says ‘slaves’ in the text, but to interpret it to be applicable in our modern era, we need to update the terminology) – are to submit to that authority, while those in authority (husbands, fathers and masters/employers) are to make it easy for the former to do so. Otherwise, as he spells out explicitly to fathers, they might get frustrated with the impossible task of trying to please you, and simply give up. What makes this latter instruction particularly challenging is the fact that these authority positions tend to be held by the same person; a husband is a father is a boss, etc. Which means that they have a twofold or even threefold responsibility. Admittedly, mine is down to a single responsibility for now, so I shouldn’t complain; but I thought the fact that the pattern existed was worthy of comment.

That being said, Joel expects to continue forward through the Thessalonian letters, which will take us most, if not all of the way, through September. After that, he said he was leaving it up to suggestions from the group. Oddly enough, several of them seemed to be leaning towards the book of Job. Joel appeared to consider it, but pointed out that he wouldn’t be doing it it on a chapter by chapter basis, as that would take the better part of the year (it’s a long book, after all).

***

Now, you probably realize that I have something of a love/hate relationship with the book of Job. The question of suffering, and why it exists, is one that everyone who deals with it personally finds themselves wrestling with at some point – and this past year and a half has been that for me.

Actually, let me pause there for a moment about that word ‘why’. I had actually meant to write you a letter entitled “It’s Not Wise to Ask the Whys,” thinking it a clever way to headline a list of reasons why something like your accident might have happened, followed by a reason or two why even posing the question is little more than an exercise in futility. But, in fact, there is a reason to ask ‘why’ in the midst of a given problem; if you can identify the cause or source of the problem, you can address that cause, and fix it.

As a fairly simplistic example – if one that I no longer have to deal with anymore – there are times when I would be mowing the lawn, and the lawnmower would simply stop working on me. Generally, there were two different reasons why this would happen – either I would run out of gas, or I hit some bump or otherwise jostle loose the connection to the spark plug. Now, if the spark plug is loose, there’s nothing wrong with checking to see that I have enough fuel in the tank, but all the gasoline in the world isn’t going to remedy the problem. Fortunately in this case, both solutions are fairly easy to diagnose and mitigate.

However, in life, very few problems are this easily solved. And, in fact, many problems don’t really have a solution. I remember Larry talking to us in the waiting room of the hospital about how this incident was likely to raise the camp’s insurance rate, even though I made it plain that I was not about to sue over it – the only thing I could think of demanding is what I think they refer to in legal terms as ‘specific performance,’ but that was not something that could be provided at this point, any more than some Las Vegas venue could sue the Presley estate for Elvis not being able to make a contracted booking for a scheduled appearance in 1978. Some things simply can’t be fixed.

***

I could go on for some time about the book of Job, and how I question the utility of most of the speeches within it; we already know that the three friends are wrong, so what value is there in anything they have to say? And then there’s the kid, Elihu, who shows up near the end of the book and says his peace, only to be interrupted by God himself – is what he says to be taking as scripture? Sure, he’s not criticized for anything he says like the three ‘friends’ are, but he’s also not commended for it, either.

And despite Job’s fortunes returning to the status quo ante, what of the children and servants that were lost? Didn’t they have any value? Replacing them – especially the children, but all humans have value, right? – is all well and good, but those losses will always be felt and mourned, won’t they? To say ‘we can just replace them’ is an awfully callous way to look at things like this. Or maybe mine is simply a modern perspective that didn’t exist back in those days.

***

The weird thing is, all that I’ve just said is introduction to current events. I had determined to tell you about something that happened yesterday, but in rather general and oblique terms, so as to conceal identities. Again, depending on how much you pay any attention to what’s going on with things on this side of the veil, you may already know the story. So, for all that introduction, I’ll make this brief.

Actually, I may just throw in a little more introduction. You had a gift for finding people who needed friends, but whose lives – to hear them tell about them – read pretty much like the first chapter of Job. I really haven’t had much to do with them since your accident – I think they realize that I’m not you, and won’t be able to react like you did, for better or worse (mostly worse). But I’ve recently been confronted with a connection on your side that I don’t know how to deal with.

You used to point out that, at times, people (mostly females) just need someone to listen to their problems, and not try to solve them. For all that I used to refer to you as being more of a ‘guy’ than a ‘chick’ (which, to my way of thinking, is markedly different from the simple ‘male’/‘female’ dichotomy), this was one way you landed squarely in ‘chick’ territory. ‘Guy’s’ minds, when faced with something like this, tend toward the following logical progression:

  • I’m hearing about a situation.
  • This situation is being described in negative terms.
  • Therefore, it is most likely a problem.
    • Side note: problems are not pleasant to endure.
    • Therefore, they need to be solved.
  • I am being told about this problem.
  • Therefore, this person wants me to solve it, or at least help solve it.

I’m not saying it’s correct, necessarily, but it’s somewhat logical. We ‘guys’ tend to insist on fixing what we can, and ignoring what we can’t (because if it can’t be fixed, why dwell on it?). And while we can somewhat grasp the idea of needing to vent from time to time, even about insoluble problems, we don’t understand why someone would pick at an incurable wound for hours on end.

So, when I got a call yesterday that felt like a request for help (my abilities in financial management were even referenced when the conversation started) but then unfolded into an incredible (as in, so out there as to border on not being credible – how many awful things can happen to one person at one time?) list of calamities – many of which seemed more requiring legal assistance than bookkeeping – I found myself unable to hold up my end of the conversation. All I could ask myself was “what can I do?” without finding an answer. By the end, I felt as helpless as the person on the other end of the line, and nothing wound up getting resolved.

***

I’ve heard somewhere that a joy shared is a joy multiplied, while a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. That’s a pleasant sentiment, and I wish that it were true, but I’m not certain that it always is. Sometimes, whatever is being shared simply metastasizes among all who it’s shared with, whether it’s a joy or a sorrow. On the internet, it’s referred to as ‘going viral,’ and is generally considered a good thing, under the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But I’m not so sure.

I suppose it makes no difference to you at this point, but I thought I’d just fill you in – if for no other reason that I once again find myself wishing you were here to offer your perspective on the situation.

Anyway, keep an eye out for me, honey, and wish me luck – and her, too, since she needs it that much more than I do.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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