The light at Danforth Avenue was red as I approached. I had been visiting a friend in Toronto and was on my way back to Michigan. Two cops on motorcycles pulled up in front of me and blocked the street. Other police vehicles entered the intersection, lights flashing. The traffic light turned green and then red again, and I wondered what dignitary might be approaching.
Then a pack of runners entered the intersection. A woman in the middle of the pack was carrying a torch; the Pan Am Games were about to begin. How lucky I am, I thought, to be at that intersection at that moment.
A few weeks ago, our deacon’s sermon was about his ministry in the emergency room and how often he heard “why” questions, people trying to make sense of accidents and illnesses, asking why bad things happen to them.
As I listened to his sermon, I pondered my own “why” questions and realized that I am more apt to ask why good things happen to me—like seeing the torch being carried to the Pam Am Games or any of the many other times I have been touched by good fortune.
Suffering and sorrow are part of life; bad things just happen—a lesson I learned as a child. I have had my share of troubles; but, at those times, instead of “why?” I tend to ask “what?”—as in, “what am I meant to learn from this experience?” Every curse has a blessing; my task is to discover it. Usually it has to do with being more compassionate or letting go of my expectations or thinking of others more than myself or finding some good in the situation and being grateful.
It might be a family trait. When my cousin was being treated for pancreatic cancer, she shared with me that people in the infusion center often wondered aloud why they had cancer, why had this happened to them? My cousin told me she found their questions curious because she thought, “why not me?” Exactly.
As I watched the torch bearer run past, I thought of what a highlight this must be for her. I hope that she is able to savor the experience and be grateful to have been chosen for this honor.
I also thought of how the Pan Am games will present many opportunities for people to ask “Why me?”—when injury or illness or just having an off day affects their performance, and the results are not what they expected or hoped for. In those moments, when disappointment can be overwhelming, my hope is that they will be able to move past their disappointment and rejoice with the winners. And I hope all the athletes will remember the sacrifices of parents and coaches who helped them develop their talents—and be grateful.
After all, to have reached the Pan Am games, these athletes belong to a rarefied group that most of us can only admire from afar. How fortunate they are.