Finding Reason 'Why Does the Bad Thing Happen?'
At noon, a runaway truck struck a minibus at the foot of Jerusalem and bound together the lives of 22 people: 18 Israeli Chasidim, two American Jews, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew who had just found religion. The last died at the wheel of his bus. The rest of us returned to our homes to heal -- a medical jet flying me, my broken neck and a respirator back to New York. I was 19.
In time, half of my paralyzed body returned to life, my spastic left side not quite keeping up with my right. I was a hemiplegic and would be always. And when last year I returned to Jerusalem at age 40, stepping from the plane with my cane and ankle brace, I hoped to write of the crash and its place in my life.
It had taken me years to tease out where I ended and my disability began. Yes, I knew that had my neck not broken, I would have gotten a haircut that May day, would have played baseball in college, would have become a doctor. But what of the rest?Was it owing to the crash that I was not married, that I was ever-mindful of time, that people seemed to tell me what they told no one else?
23 years later I have written my book. And it occurs to me that whenever any of us wish to assimilate why we suffer (or prosper). We can attribute our lots to God and his writings, his unknowable ways. Or we can root them in the natural world and chronicle them ourselves -- on paper or simply in our minds. We can take comfort in ultimate if inscrutable justice. Or we can take comfort in observable reason and responsibility.
At first, I threw my lot in with God. Never mind that I had long struggled with the theological implications of life's evident unfairness. I was being prayed for and I was recovering, and at age 19, that sufficed. Religion and maktoob were comforts -- the notion of divine authorship (and its obvious extension, ultimate justice) elastic enough to accommodate even inflexible facts.
But in the end, whether one believes (or not) is not a choice. It is an empirical question. And in time, I came to see that I did not believe in a deity. I soon saw just as clearly the uncomfortable fact that I was agnostic regarding God.