I’d just returned from a great visit to a friend in Oregon when I got my brother’s voice message. First, he said he looked forward to hearing about my vacation, and then he added that he’d had a routine colonoscopy that revealed a tumor – a cancerous one – and he needed immediate surgery. I felt the jolt of dread that comes with such news, and all I could think was why now, why him…and why me?

In the past few years I’d dealt with my mother having and recovering from a small stroke and having her toe amputated for melanoma, from which she recovered, my therapist getting lung cancer and dying, my brother being in the hospital with a heart infection, my father dying, and now my brother's new health crisis. Throughout all of my family's turmoil, I'd been a rock, the one standing strong and providing comfort. But even rocks get ground down in storms, and now I felt like the tiniest of pebbles, unable to support myself, let alone my family. Why, in God’s name, was this happening to me, and to them?

Then, for no reason that I know of, I turned that phrase around in my head and heard myself ask, "Why not me?" Immediately, I felt better.

“Why me?” is the question of someone who feels helpless and under attack from unseen forces. It is the stressful mindset of a victim who anxiously scours the horizon in anticipation of another volley, all the while crouched in a tense, defensive position. It is the experience and posture of a person under siege.

Asking “why not me?” is a simple but powerful shift in focus to a perspective of accepting life as it comes from an upright posture, a position of dignity.

From this new stance, I could calmly contemplate the numerous insults, injuries, and mishaps that befall people around the world every minute. On reflection, it only made sense that, given the laws of luck and probability, I would get my share of such miseries, just like everybody else. The facts that my father died in his sleep at age 90, my mother was still driving and going to the theater at 87, and even that my brother was ill at 52 actually began to feel like blessings, given the poverty, famine, virulent disease, natural disasters, and human violence that afflicts so much of the world’s population.

I mean, no member of my family had been in a serious car accident, been the target of senseless violence – or even sensible violence, if such a thing exists. We are not, nor have we ever been, destitute. We are educated. We have insurance. Life for us is not bad. It is hard at times, but that is life.

Seeing my family’s medical woes as likely, rather than random, life events freed me from the horrible feeling that I was being singled out for excessive misfortune. Unlike Job, God was not abandoning me on a whim. So instead of wailing against God, I turned to God for support and comfort. God wasn't visiting ills upon me, but is always there for me when the ills of life knock at my door. I know there are people dealing with far more than I, with far fewer worldly resources to fall back on. Sure it is scary, and my brother’s surgery will be painful and life-altering, but the chances are excellent that he will recover to lead a full life.

Simply seeing my situation as one of the natural freak twists and turns that life delivers, instead of as a personal insult, changed me. Now I could be a mature adult, not the helpless victim of an unseen assailant. Inserting the tiny word "not" into the equation “why me?” altered my reality in a most powerful way: recognizing that a certain amount of misery will come my way lets me accept life on its terms, instead of expecting it to conform to my own – unrealistic – ones.

I’m not saying I like or welcome pain – not at all. But I accept that it is part of the whole range of colors, moods, feelings, and experiences that are a part and parcel of being a human being and living a full life. If I expect otherwise, not only will I be sorely disappointed, I’ll be emotionally unprepared to deal with life. Like someone who struggles against ropes that bind them, only to make them tighter and more restrictive, I will suffer more the more I struggle against life’s hardships.

Moving with the current of my life, rough as the waters were, taught me to lean into God and trust that I would eventually land on solid ground. I learned to befriend my struggles, and work with them—and God.

Because who among us doesn’t need another friend in time of need?
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