Our Unfinished Houses


Arriving one week after Easter and Passover .... this painful, difficult week — a week that began with Holocaust Memorial Day and ended with the eight year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre [April 20, 2007] — is one of those moments when we would like to turn back our clocks to the first of the month (or the first day of this new millennium!)... and change the future.  If only we could.  How much we would change!

At times — times such as now (such as this week) — I might have preferred to live on a remote, isolated island.  Away from television, radio, newspapers, Internet.  Away from the human brutality, and horrific tragedy, of Virginia Tech and the Sadriya market in Baghdad.  Away from the painful images of victims crushed, and suffocating, under human suffering.  Away from our unfinished, imperfect houses.  Away ... anywhere, somewhere .... in paradise.

Philip Simmons, who served as an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois, lived the last years of his life in suffering.  At the all-too-young-age of thirty-five, Professor Simmons, a father and a husband, learned that he had ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.  In the years that followed that painful discovery, Simmons embarked on a remarkable ten-year spiritual journey — a journey that challenged him to pursue the mysteries of life with the passion for life: a passion that motivated him to write one of the most inspiring books I have ever read: Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life.

 "We have all heard poems, songs, and prayers that exhort us to see God in a
 blade of grass, a drop of dew, a child's eyes, or the petals of a flower.
 Now when I hear such things I say that's too easy.  Our greater challenge is
 to see God not only in the eyes of the suffering child but in the suffering
 itself.  To thank God for the sunset pink clouds over Red Hill -- but also
 for the mosquitoes I must fan from my face while watching the clouds.  To
 thank God for broken bones and broken hearts, for everything that opens us
 to the mystery of our humanness.  The challenge is to stand at the sink with
 your hands in the dishwater, fuming over a quarrel with your spouse, children
 at your back clamoring for attention, the radio blatting bad news from Bosnia,
 and to say 'God is here, now, in this room, here in this dishwater, in this
 dirty spoon.'  Don't talk to me about flowers and sunshine and waterfalls: 
 this is the ground, here, now, in all that is ordinary and imperfect, this is
 the ground in which life sows the seeds of our fulfillment.... The imperfect
 is our paradise."1

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner — another victim of tragedy .. who, together with his wife (and friends and family), faced the loss of their young son to a terrible, fatal disease — steers us, deliberately, passionately, away from the 'WHY' questions that often surround pain, heartache, and suffering ... and asks, instead, that we focus on the 'WHEN' questions. 

  "In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good
 people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer
 asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we
 intend to do now that it has happened." 2