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Trials and Adversity: It Doesn’t Always Happen to Someone Else

why me

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed that if I sincerely prayed, God would take care of me, and he would make sure calamity didn’t show up at my doorstep. In those rare instances when it seemed that God wasn’t answering my prayer and I was facing disaster, I thought he was either testing me or chastising me for disobedience.

I was relatively healthy until the early 1990s. I played basketball in the winter and softball in the summer. In the fall, I cut wood, spending hours sawing felled trees into wood stove-sized pieces. I hunted in the fall/winter, walking for miles in the Appalachian foothills. I was, by every measure, a healthy but increasingly overweight man.

Today, I am a disabled old man, worn thin by chronic illness and debilitating pain. Since last August, I have had surgery, been to the emergency room twice, including last night, battled complications from the aforementioned surgery, had numerous tests, and have had way too many medications added to my daily pill-popping regimen. To say that I am tired of being sick and tired would be a gross understatement. I am back to seeing my counselor regularly, if for no other reason than I fear I am getting perilously close to saying, I don’t want to do this anymore.

I am still amazed by how quickly the circumstances of my life have changed. It seems that life is being sucked out of me ever so slowly. Gone are the days of strenuous physical activity. Now I am happy to take a short walk with Polly or tour our yard, looking at the flowers, bushes, and trees. Our home is littered with projects in various stages of completion. I will get to these projects soon, I tell myself. The pile of unread magazines on the end table continues to grow, even though I subscribe to few magazines these days. The same could be said for the unread books that line the shelves in the dining room. A week ago, I developed inflammation in the left side of my ribs and sternum. It is painful for me to even type. I have had this pain in the past, but coupled with abnormally high blood pressure readings (226/110) and a pounding headache, I thought I might be having a heart attack or stroke, thus my trip to the ER last night. Fortunately, after three hours of tests, the doctor concluded that yes, my blood pressure was high, but it was unlikely that I was having a heart attack or stroke.

Five years ago, I went over to my oldest son’s home to wire their new bedroom and bathroom. My coming over to help quickly turned into me taking extra doses of narcotic pain medication and sitting on a chair while I told others what to do. I was able to get the circuits where they needed to go, and I suppose I could make myself feel good over my son still needing my expertise, but I quietly wept inside as I thought about how much I had lost. Today? Attempts to do something physically strenuous are met with the screaming objections of my body. I sometimes push through the pain, knowing that I will pay a heavy price for ignoring my body’s vociferous objections. I shouldn’t do these things anymore, but the only thing worse than not doing them is feeling that my expertise and help are no longer needed. We all want to feel needed by those we love.

One of the most significant issues that dominate my every-other-week counseling sessions with Dr. Deal is my unwillingness to embrace life as it is. Just last week, we talked about the difficulty I was having taking baths and showers. Polly has to be nearby just in case I fall. Dr. Deal strongly suggested I purchase a shower seat and a tub support rail. I thought I am not going to do that.  Sixteen years ago, I managed the Yuma office of Allegro Medical — a direct medical equipment company. We made deliveries of equipment to the homes of older people or nursing homes. I am not that old, right? Reason eventually prevailed. I ordered a seat and a rail from Amazon.

Even my family doctor has talked to me about the fine line between giving up and being smart about embracing reality. The notion of putting mind over matter is patently false, at least for me. There will be no more days of playing basketball or softball. There will be no more days of feeling the sweat run down my face and back as I cut wood on a crisp fall day. There will be no more days of trudging through the woods playing a game of hide-and-seek with a cottontail rabbit or a fox squirrel. No matter how much I want it to be different, I will never be able to read like I once did. While the voracious appetite for the printed page is still there, the ability to process it is long gone.  This is my life, and there is not one damn thing I can do about it.

As a Christian, I believed that my physical afflictions were the result of God making me more like Jesus. I thought the way to Heaven was paved with pain and suffering. I can confidently say that God never answered one prayer when I cried out to him for physical relief or deliverance. I came to see that I was like the Apostle Paul who prayed for deliverance and God told him no. (2 Corinthians 12:6-9) God seems to always say no.

These days, I realize that the diseases that are ever-so-slowly taking life from me are the result of a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, with a topping of “who the hell knows.” When I whine and complain about my lot in life and say “why me?” the universe laughs and says, “why not you?”

Bad things don’t always happen to other people. It is not always another family’s child who gets cancer or is killed in a car accident. It is not always someone else who has a brain tumor, goes through a divorce, or loses a job. It’s not always someone else who gets infected with COVID-19. It is not always someone else who loses everything in a fire, tornado, hurricane, or flood. The truth is that life is a big crapshoot: good luck, bad luck, at the right place, at the wrong place, good genetics, bad genetics, growing up on the right side of the tracks, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, marrying the right person, marrying the wrong person. The list is endless.

As I peruse humankind’s ways, it is clear to me that very few people live to be old without facing trial and adversity. It is just how life is. If there really is a God, I might find some pleasure and satisfaction in saying DAMN you, God, but since there is no God, I am left to shout at a universe that yawns at my death-defying struggle. If the universe could speak, it surely would say, this movie always ends the same way. Death. Next.

It is futile to see life other than as it is. Wishing for days that are long since gone only results in depression and despair. We must embrace life as it is while we go kicking and screaming into the night. We have two choices in life: fight or roll over and die. Yes, life is unfair and bad things happen to good people. Shit happens, and it doesn’t always happen to someone else.

Let me end this post with a poem by Dylan Thomas, an early 20th-century poet who died at the age of 39:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    It’s hard. In terms of acceptance, my husband plans things as if he was 45. And then he can’t keep up. AND he gets insulted when I say he can’t. Instead of looking at reality, most of us want to pretend. Heck, if I have 2 decent days in a row I start making plans like THAT will keep going…only it never does.

  2. Avatar
    Tammy Schoch

    Just a note to say hello again. I follow you on my RSS feed. I tell Jim little updates now and then. You and Polly remain as a fun memory of our time living in Ohio.

  3. Avatar
    Linn

    I visit your site quite often, although i am a confirmed Christian. i will not go “spiritual” on you. What I will contribute is that i’ve been disabled my entire life (born that way), and I’m now just your age. I’m on a rolling walker with restrictions in terms of bending/lifting. I am thankful that I don’t have a lot of physical pain and I hold down a job that I enjoy. But, something I have learned…if an accommodation will help me stay more mobile, I quickly embrace it, especially if it means I don’t have to be as dependent on others. I have an extra walker in the house, a lift up to my mobile home (means I can get my own groceries in without hassling with the stairs), a shower chair, reachers to pick things up, etc. I never imagined my life as a “disabled” person would be like this 30 years ago when I was hopping around with my cane, but I’m still independent. I do ask for help when needed, and I’m grateful for both my church and neighbors, but I do as much as I can for myself. Improvements in assistive devices for the disabled/elderly have been great friends! I know that everyone’s disability journey is different and frustrating. Good luck as you figure out what works best for you. My role model, by the way, was my great-aunt who had polio, followed by rheumatoid arthritis as a young person, long before all of the medications and therapies available. She kept moving, and always had her crutches/cane/walker handy. She was also a great cheer-leader for a little girl who struggled to walk.

  4. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I broke my ankle in the middle of December 2020 and required surgery. I am still working on the physical therapy and dealing with the pain caused by that. I am also dealing with being almost completely dependent on my husband. I cannot drive a car because of ,my other disability, epilepsy, so he must drive me to every doctor’s appointment etc.

    It is not easy for either of us. He has said someday I will need to care for him, but life has not turned out that way.

    Keep writing, it helps people like me.

  5. Avatar
    BJW

    People who are minimizing this pandemic because they are in good enough shape (they think) don’t realize some of us are already broken. I don’t relish the idea of being sick enough to be on a ventilator, nor do I want to dietho. But getting long Covid on top of fibromyalgia etc could mean I’m bedridden, and THAT is a future that terrifies me.

    Bruce, I always feel regret over your health. But you are still striving and raging and that is a good thing for all of us, as we get to hear your thoughts and that helps us. Thank you.

  6. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Sh!t happens in this universe, as well as beauty.

    I love how you continue to rage against the machine.

    I read a good quote today by Epictetus: “People are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

  7. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    Yep. Life sometimes sucks, and sometimes there’s nothing much you can do about it. Around our house, we have a couple of standard responses–for the minor things, not the tragedies: One of us gazes to the heavens (or, more often, the ceiling), and asks, “Why me, Lord?” and the other replies, “Why not you?” Alternatively, when one of us asks, “Why me, Lord?” the other responds, “Something about you ticks me off!” For the genuine tragedies, huge and not-so-much, where there can be no laughter involved, we’re more likely to try to be grateful for the belief that there is no god to be angry at us, and what happened to us was not because we deserved it.

  8. Avatar
    Burr Deming

    Thank you for this.

    The reverse question has been a companion of mine. Why not me? Why not mine?

    I fervently prayed for the survival and safety of our young Marine after we suddenly lost contact with him as we heard news that several Marines had been killed in an attack on his base. I was aware that, while I was praying that we be spared grief and pain, I was also praying for that grief and pain to be visited on another family. When I reported the outcome to the congregation, it was not with the triumph of an answered prayer, it was with the guilt of my own sacrament of selfishness.

    I did not share the harsh anger of those prayers or my apologies in later prayers.

    After a nearly deadly traffic accident last year, the question recurred. Why did I survive?

    You are helping me with that recurring question.

    Thank you again for your experience.
    It is remarkably unselfish for you to share it so frankly.

    I take your experience, and your insight, to heart.

  9. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I can certainly relate to this post today. Genetic based medicine is a field not well understood in this country, and much of these diseases that sneak up on you unawares until you realize it’s got a grip on you. From what I read before ,triggers can turn genes off and on. Stress, even lack of nutrients, and hitting a certain age will do it. Fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s Disease, along with Turner’s Syndrome and Down’s all share a link genetically. This wasn’t known until recently. I read this on the Livingwell.com that appears in my inbox. I always suspected my mother had Turner’s, but she died before being told she should be tested for these things. Gene editing really interests me. Racial vulnerability is also a factor, my mother was Irish/ German/ Dutch. Born very pale, large boned and fat as a child, with sacks of blubber around her ankles called ” cankles.”. Ever since age 55, apartments with rails, walk- in showers and other amenities for seniors, are the law in California, or should be. Never feel bad or ” less than,” for using them. I’d be in on of these apartments if there wasn’t a housing shortage ( artificially caused). And for the man who prays for the Marin son’s safety,can I ask you, where did you get the idea that it means death and tragedy for a other family if you pray for your son ??? Who says anyone has to die when some place comes under attack. Often, there are no casualties. You aren’t being selfish, you’re being human !! Is he still alright, I hope ? Calm down and pray for the kid, you’re not harming anybody. Geeze ! America’s in bad shape,lots of adversity to go around, I’m afraid.

  10. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Yulya, I think the human sentiment in Mr. Deming’s post is a natural one and not simply overdoing a feeling. Many people might not ‘enjoy’ the depth of feeling that is well-expressed by this gentleman, IMHO. When we beg for mercy and say, take my brother, take my brother and not me, we are indeed being human. As we are when we realize the horror of the words we have said in mortal fear.
    As for your words, ‘Often, there are no casualties,’ I beg to differ. The truth might be closer to ‘There are nothing but casualties,’ Perhaps you simply mean that bombs fall and sometimes all live through it? I think it worth remembering that we all lose in war, we are all casualties. Too many die horribly and we are all harmed. USA has not yet learned how to end the endless war that is their history.
    I add my support along with you to Mr. Deming in wishing him good fortune. And echo his words for Bruce:
    ‘Thank you again for your experience. It is remarkably unselfish for you to share it so frankly. I take your experience, and your insight, to heart.’
    Well and truly stated…

  11. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    I was thinking about that seat and rail you purchased.

    After taking care of Biker Dude’s parents (in their 80’s) in the last year of their life, they too balked at the seat and rail. They also took forever to agree to a little in home nursing care a few times a week for dad, (just to help him bathe).

    Sometimes we don’t realize that not only is the seat and rail for our own safety but the safety of those who are caring for us. As someone with chronic illness and pain caring for elderly parents, I myself needed mom to sit and I myself needed to grab the rail more than once as I helped her shower, or held the shower nozzle etc.

    I learned that I had to change my own mind about the eventual acceptance of that damn seat and rail and see that it’s not only for my own well-being but also for the well-being of others around me. 🙂

  12. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hi, Brian. I was not angry at all with Mr. Deming. Just to make sure he knows. I felt bad for him, that somehow he was convinced into fearing that if he prayed for the safety of his son on those ongoing battles in the Middle East, it would cause some other family loss, I was disturbed to think some doctrine caused him this conundrum. Where would he get such ideas, was it church ? At any rate, he should be assured that he’s harming no one by praying, if it makes him feel better. I don’t put as much stock in it as I once did. That’s another story for another day. I was thinking about you, Bruce. Don’t throw in the

  13. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    towel just yet. I was rudely interrupted while typing in the blog here. I take anti- inflammatory meds myself, and tried Naproxen by tasting a pill first, and the thing burnt me ! I wanted to say that generic drugs from overseas can be dangerous, and in my case, I have to tell the pharmacy to give me a version that isn’t Dr. Reddy brand. I got duped once by that brand, if you have it, exchange it. Quite the scare, that pill.

  14. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    There may not be any harm in praying (unless it is intended to harm). I know that true believers pray for backsliders to learn the hard way and get back in line. That kind of prayer is preying but the kind where one begs the universe/whatever to protect a loved one in danger, well, I don’t see the harm in that at all. And proabably many of those folks pray for general relief for all suffering or in danger, don’t you think? I believe there is a human power to be harnessed in Focus, in Meditation on a subect or concern, in thinking/feeling my way through time with a specific goal in mind. The ‘fake it till you make it’ kind works for me because it is about practicing ad trying again and improving your lot as you are able. I certainly don’t subscribe to poppycock about the powers-that-be upstairs. Upstairs is the human mind. Thanks for responding, Yulya. It’s freakin’ 20 below around here this last weekish and I’ve had two flats in the early morning dark on the highway going to a job! So cold, so dark and the fingers go numb so fast in that frigid highway wind… And all of it resulting from a chunk of 8×8 wood probably thrown from the back of a poorly secured flatbed…. grr….

  15. Avatar
    Autumn

    Regarding generics, I recommend reading Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eber. It’s scarier than any Stephen King horror novel because it’s NONFICTION! Secondarily if you can use a locally owned pharmacy where they remember your name and you can ask questions you’ll do better. I am most suspicious of time release formulas because if the time release chemistry doesn’t work the way it should you might get much more med than you expect.

    I had a walmart pharmacist tell me it was illegal for her to tell me the manufacturer of the generic ritalin they were stocking! NOT TRUE! It might be a corporate policy of walmart’s or it might be that she simply didn’t have the spoons to deal with an informed and questioning customer. Chain pharmacists are too often poorly treated and expected to work at a certain speed. Asking people working with sometimes dangerous medications to work fast makes this old nurse sick to her stomach!

  16. Avatar
    Grammar Gramma

    I think that, if 10 Marines are killed in an incident, and Mr. Deming prays that his son is not one of them, then the logical (to him) result of his prayer is that someone else is killed if the sky daddy answers his prayer. Never mind that the incident is already over and his son is either among the living or the dead. Sort of like Schrodinger’s cat.

  17. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Thanks, Brian. I wish I could have made the move from Calt to New England a few years back. I was told anyone with autoimmune and arthritis issues shouldn’t move that far North. My Irish grandmother, who grew up in Boston would agree with that opinion, lol.

  18. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Thanks, Brian. When I think of America’s largest employer, the military, and what goes on our our forces, I can’t help but feel that they shouldn’t be over there. In California, we are having extremes of both cold and heat, and seeing how the weather changed after 1982, and the natural beauty of the place is cancelled out by Third World conditions. I’d never suggest anyone could move here these days. Not unless they were millionaires, lol.

  19. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hello, Autumn. Thank you for posting the book title here ! I’m curious about this into and I’ll try to find it. Betting most of us can use this book, too. Have a good one !

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Bruce Gerencser