Just My Luck – Chapter 7
Why some survive and others don’t becomes very large in the aftermath of tragedy. The most difficult questions that drove my PTSD and held my mind captive for several months after 9/11 were: why was I spared when so many who were more deserving perished? What distinguished me from those who didn’t make it out? Does God intercede in what happens to us at pivotal times of our lives? Might we actually have “guardian angels” protecting us when we can’t protect ourselves?
After considerable thought about the central [Why me?] question, I arrived right where I started, which is the only possible answer: nothing, good or bad, distinguished me as more worthy or less worthy of survival that day. A very large number of brave and heroic people on the New York City payroll were certainly more worthy. Among the civilians like me, some very noble, humble, caring, giving, and trustworthy people were removed from this world that day as were some conniving, selfish, even sadistic folks. Both extremes were among those who died and those who escaped death.
Likewise, the young, those in middle age, and others about to enter a well-deserved and long anticipated retirement were among both the living and the dead. Tuesday, 9/11/01 was the first day in a new job for some who died and some brand new employees in the World Trade Center survived. Entrepreneurs and long entrenched executives, custodians, military troops, mechanics, all manner of civilians and of course many police, fire, EMS personnel were at the WTC and Pentagon. Some running out and others running into the burning buildings. All categories professional, religious, physically fit, handicapped, married, divorced, widowed, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and trans gender, tall, short , athletic, uncoordinated, you name it were and were not among the survivors.
In the alphabet soup, every letter was in both the soup pot and the bowl.
God did not choose who would live and who would die, actively sorting our souls by any conceivable set of criteria.
Likewise, the idea that one’s survival was deserved is absolutely ludicrous simply because its corollary would be that others didn’t deserve. NO ONE deserved to die that day.
Random luck was the unbiased and uncaring arbiter of all who lived and died.
Random, Not Planned
Like so much of our world, the casualties were random.
God did not plan before, during or after the event who was to die and who was to escape. God didn’t write the passenger manifests for the four airliners that were hijacked. No one on any of those planes survived the day. God didn’t manipulate the lives of the thousands of people who worked in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, deciding who would be where when the disaster struck. God didn’t choose the time the planes took off, or their routes, or their speed so that they would crash into the towers or the Pentagon at the precise moment necessary to have let specific people escape and to take all who were pre-destined to die.
My understanding of God includes no arbitrary favoritism or abandonment.
For me, there is no getting away from the fundamental premises that the events of 9/11 were initiated by free will and resulted in random consequences. I cannot even begin to imagine a God’s Plan that removed me from harm while taking so many good and valuable people. And I cannot simply attribute my escape from death to a plan whose inherent injustice can only be explained away as simply “a mystery.”
A mystery is ultimately of small use in assuaging Survivor’s Guilt.
Many well meaning and sympathetic people have told me, “God must have some special plans for you.” If I was spared from the horrible fate that so many of my colleagues met in order that I might fulfill some Godly mission, it must really be a super-important one. I can only pray that I will be up to the enormity of the task when it comes.
No, I appreciate the sentiment but I don’t believe God had any hand whatsoever in the terrorists’ decisions to hijack the planes and fly them into the buildings or the ground. Neither did God determine who among the day’s victims was to die and who was to live. God did not consult some carefully crafted Plan Book to make sure that people with important roles in some miracles or some special services yet to come, got to live another day.
“All right everybody, please take note: George is scheduled to dissuade a lovely, misguided, would-be home wrecker from a life of prostitution in the big city in… let’s see now… Ah, here it is, in 2021. For her sake, he’s got to stay alive at least until then.
Do whatever you have to do, Clarence.”
I think God has special hopes for us all. We are free, not destined, to please or disappoint.
No doubt I am on the lookout for opportunities to make a positive difference in situations that might require my attention. I certainly accept that I still have unfinished business in God’s world. What I can’t accept is that this separated me from those would die.
Not one person who died on 9/11 didn’t have important unfinished business. How many parents of new born, young, adolescent, or older daughters and sons died when I did not? Newlyweds or newly betrothed? How many happily or unhappily unmarried people? Civic Leaders? Military members? Religious Leaders? Grandparents? Students? Scout Leaders? EVERYONE living has important unfinished business.
Mine had no priority over anyone else’s.
Obviously most, if not all,, of us die with important unfinished business. Here’s the core lesson: it would be nice and tidy if we could all complete our missions before we die, but there’s never enough TIME.
Did God or His/Her Angels Intercede?
This is a much harder question for me than the God’s Plan theory or the Important Plans Awaiting notion, simply because I have had such astounding luck at several key moments in my life. God may not have a “plan” but might God choose to nudge something or protect someone in order to change the course of a life from time to time?
What might trigger such an intercession?
I will explain in a later chapter in greater detail my understanding of my self, my soul, and my spirit, which are all one and the same. I believe in the power of spirit and believe that the power of many souls can be harnessed in combined prayers of supplication. The I have seen it happen and I have felt God’s spirit in me and others. It’s too rare, but wonderful, a stupendous gift. This is what I believe may at times result in an intercession.
How does it happen?
The first time I ever considered that an angel or other force may have interceded on my behalf was when I was driving southbound on CT Route 7, a heavily traveled two-lane road several years ago. I was alone in my little 1988 Mazda 323. I can’t remember exactly when this happened, but it was certainly before either of my children had left the nest. In other words, I still had some very important unfinished business.
I was approaching a traffic light where a similar road, Route 35 emptied onto Route 7 from my right. About 100 yards before the light, my southbound side of the road widened into two lanes, the right lane for turning onto 35 and the left to continue down 7. As I approached the green traffic signal at speed in my left lane a large heavy pick-up truck with a raised chassis in the northbound single lane suddenly jumped into my lane to pass the car in front of it at high speed. In an instant, we were mere seconds away from a head on collision, one I would surely lose, badly. The next moment I found myself in the right turn lane as the tall pick up sped past me less than a yard away in the lane that I somehow vacated.
I didn’t remember doing anything to juke my car into the right lane. The only activity in my brain was the phrase ‘Oh shit!’ There was no time left to react, but there I was.
Looking back on the incident I realized how tremendously lucky I had been. Somehow, my body responded to the immanent danger before my mind did. How did that happen? I still wonder.
Furthermore, I was in some heavy traffic. I was very fortunate that there was no car beside me in the right lane when my body put my car there. If I had taken the time to check my side view mirror, which I didn’t, I simply would not have moved aside in time to avoid the head on collision.
My pulse was shuddering and I was short of breath when I cleared the intersection and pulled into the parking lot of a small row of stores. I shut down the engine and sat stunned at what had just taken place. I hadn’t had time even to feel fear as those seconds passed. Now I was shaking.
That’s when I first wondered if I had a Guardian Angel.
Is Luck Distributed by Angels?
Some, maybe not all, coincidences could well be caused by intercessions.
Occasionally we hear of instances when twins separated at birth, or long lost friends, or birth mothers and the children they put up for adoption are reunited by an improbable series of events.
Could it be that a Guardian Angel whispered the notion of a lottery ticket in my ear on 9/11? I simply don’t know.
The idea that an angel may have delivered my whim conjures up all the “Why Me” complications that the God’s Plan theory has. Why intercede for me and not for any who died? I am certain that others deserved an Angel more than I did. Okay, an intercession is not necessarily part of a mysterious plan, but it is a mysterious event. Is it possible that God isn’t responsible for all that happens, but He/She does on occasion tweak the course of events?
Were it not for what happened on Route 7, I would dismiss the Guardian Angel on 9/11 intercession idea completely. But, while it still makes little sense to me, I need to leave room for the possibility that God does sometimes intercede, and be content with that for now.
I will never claim to know all.
While I cannot subscribe to the theory that God micro-manages all that we do (and therefor all that we are) in a Master Plan, I do believe that the universe, including us, is God’s Design. The distinction between God’s Design and God’s Plan is the difference between the blue prints for a highway from here to Albuquerque with six lanes divided by a median and guard rails, drainage, shoulders, on/off ramps, etc. versus the timing and managing all of the myriad interactions that will happen on the road to Albuquerque among all the cars, trucks, motor cycles buses, emergency vehicles, snow plows and those who drive them. The design defines what’s possible and so confines the randomness to that space.
The road is always designed for intrinsically good and valuable purposes; there are no evil elements intended in the design. The drivers on the road, however, can use or abuse the road for good, bad, or benign purposes. When the road is used to get an injured person to a hospital in an ambulance, it is good. But when the road is used as a get-away route for a pedophile, it is not. The Design, the primary intention, the hope, is well defined. Who is driving, where they’re going and why is all random.
Like a child’s toy top, God sent the world spinning. It’s anybody’s guess where it will go from there.
Seeing a great deal of randomness operating in all lives, I have come to think that randomness is probably a key component of God’s Great Design. The free will granted to all of us enables – no requires – us to make choices as we deal with randomness. How and why we make those choices define in large measure who each of us really is. Our free will is itself a major contributor to the randomness in our lives.
Luck, random dumb luck, is also baked into God’s Design. God does not intercede to reward or punish the person who puts his last ten chips on number 21 at the roulette table. Other than the fact that God’s design includes the concept of numbers (one of God’s really cool creations), God has nothing to do with the outcome either way of the gambler’s bet. The gambler owes neither his thanks nor his blame to God if number 21 comes up or not. But if and when God did intercede in events on someone’s behalf, wouldn’t the guise of luck/coincidence be a good vehicle to mask it?
In God’s design, we are made mortal and often unpredictable. We have been born into a world that includes countless ways for humans to live and to die. That we will die is certain; when, where and how each of us will die is unknown even to God and is, therefore, random. When, where and how we live determines if we live a life worth living.
I believe that while God does not inflict death and seldom, if ever, deflects death, God grieves with those who grieve and welcomes the souls of the departed with love.
And the self lives on.
© 2016 James Ash