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What to Think When Bad Things Happen

October 26, 2010

I have to admit that I love the irreverent phrase “sh*! happens” because too often in life there is just no explanation for the obstacles we face.

The first time I heard the expression I laughed,  a bit uncomfortably no doubt. I don’t even remember the context. Like all comedy there is an element of down and dirty truth behind the levity. It looks at life’s most painful or embarrassing experiences in the light of cold hard truth and the juxtaposition strikes us as humorous. It also informs us and requires that we look beyond the surface of an experience to what lies beneath.  The powerful is often not in what is said, but what is left unsaid.

Many of us were raised to believe that if we just do the right thing, life will all work out and our dreams will come true. By the time we reach our forties, fifties or sixties we have come or are coming to the realization that no matter how hard we try, things don’t always work out the way we expected or planned. In spite of our best efforts, our marriages fall apart; our children are less than the perfection we had imagined when we gave birth to them;  unexpected health issues assail us, our careers fizzle before they get off the ground, and an array of setbacks of all sizes have changed our view of our life and ourselves.

When life throws me a curve, reminding myself that *sh*! happens*, (and disregarding the irreverence of the expression),   improves my outlook, precisely because I hear the intended implication, that is: “Okay, so what are you going to do about it? Bad things happen. They just do, but you still have choices.”

When bad things happen, and they do and they will you have at least four options as as to how you can respond.

1. You can feel sorry for yourself and spend your time and effort crying and complaining about the horrible thing that happened and how unfair it is.

2. You can rage against fate and/or the person or thing that caused your setback or problem.

3. You can run away from reality and your responsibility to it by shopping, drinking, spending, or cavorting.

4. Or you can accept the setback as part of your reality and live through the difficulty to the best of your ability.

My husband and I were run off the road a month ago by a careless driver. As a result, I have temporarily lost the use of my right hand. I am a writer. I need my right hand! At first the fear of losing an essential part of myself terrified me. My husband responded differently. He was filled with rage at the driver. A friend of mine’s house was broken into and all of her valuables stolen, not to mention her sense of security. Her initial reaction was to run away, her husbands was to get out the shotgun and lay in wait for the intruders to return. In both situations our initial response was one of fight or flight.

However, after the normal period of time it takes our psyche to adjust to trauma, to continue on in this vein is futile and self-destructive.  At some point it is essential to just say “sh*! happens”, now what am I going to do to make the best of my life in spite of it. No doubt this is easier to do in some instances than others.

My view is not fatalistic or lacking in empathy and compassion. It is just reality. Pain and suffering is the nature of the less than perfect world in which we live. People make mistakes. We make mistakes. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can turn our attention to the positive that remains in the here and now and put our energies into making the most of the time we have left.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 8:29 pm

    Although the words sh.. happens rankle, they also ring true. If one is to listen to the numerous self help gurus out there, we bring about some of this sh.. by our tendency to not think “right” or whatever is the current theme of these gurus. I learned a while ago not to chastise myself when my life goes off the track or to harbor any deep seated guilt about whatever it may be that disrupts my life from the tranquil, happy road I want to travel. As Dorothy so succinctly states, sh.. happens. I live in a retirement hotel with close to two hundred assorted people some of whom have endured horrendous hardships, horrors and disappointments. Yet I look around at these courageous souls and see a hint of humor, a twinkle in aging eyes and a loving kindness in the greeting most of the residents offer. To be honest, I wouldn’t trade my life with any of its trauma, drama and disappointments for any of those experienced by the women and men who reside here. I learned long ago, as a youngster, to look life squarely in the eye and thumb my nose at whatever adversity has challenged me. I am no martyr, just someone who is getting wiser with age and loving it! If only I could pull a Benjamin Button. Now that would be a real coup!!!!

    • October 26, 2010 8:50 pm

      You always make me smile Sylvia! and I admire your zest for life!

  2. October 27, 2010 6:04 pm

    what a beautiful synopsis of our choices when stuff happens. thank you for inspiring me.

  3. October 28, 2010 2:05 am

    Glad I stopped by to see what you were up to, Dorothy! Nice post, but sorry to hear about the accident, etc. Life is a rainbow of many colors … and sometimes it’s tough to see the rainbow, but it sounds like you have, so good for you. Suffering can lead to enlightenment and I just read that sadness actually enhances creativity in a wonderful article — here’s the link, it was fascinating @

    Best wishes in the NOW,
    Daisy @ work in SunnyRoomStudio 🙂

    • October 28, 2010 12:01 pm

      Interesting article! I guess that supports the general belief that you have to be depressed or suffering to be a good writer! I have to admit that’s true for me!
      I would definitely benefit from a visit to the sunny room studio!

  4. October 30, 2010 3:59 pm

    Like you, I have been reminded of this very phrase this week. It came home to roost and I am dealing with it. It is so easy for me to go into the anger mode when I am upset about something – like your husband did regarding the accident. But when I realize that I’m making myself feel worse rather than better, then I begin to realize that I do a choice. I can allow myself to remain negative or I can dig a little deeper and analyze how my own thoughts and actions can be changed in a positive way. And one of those ways is for me to realize that “s#%t happens”. And not just to me – the center of the Universe – but to every other human as well. This realization seems to bring semblance and a bit of comfort for which I’m always grateful.

    Hope you & hubby are continuing to heal each day. Blessings to you both!

  5. November 3, 2010 6:22 pm

    One of my favorite book titles is “Bad Things Happen to Good People.” In the end the only thing we can control is our attitude. As I work with people facing retirment, none of us truly knows what lies ahead, other than there is an end.

    Great article.

  6. Michelle permalink
    January 16, 2011 2:42 am

    Hi. New to your site and thought I’d chime in.
    I am processing some sh** lately. I have a new diagnosis :-(, but have been growing ill over many years. Just as illness and disease are processes, acceptance and wellness are also processes. I bounce around emotionally and still spend some time feeling a bit sorry for myself. But you’re right on about the eventuality of moving on. Life is just too rich to stay stuck in grief. I’ve become familiar with the grieving process a few times in my life. The emotions and gut reactions are pretty much the same, but the way I respond to the grief process has grown healthier. I know that grief passes–that loving and losing, change and challenge are all part of the “Big Plan.” Bumping along this life has smoothed my edges and given me a love for the view along the way.

    • January 22, 2011 7:16 pm

      I’m sorry that you are having difficulties Michelle but your attitude is the best we can hope for when life throws us a curve. When we begin to understand that life is not easy we are able to enjoy the good times more fully and not take them for granted. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll be back again soon.

  7. March 18, 2011 1:30 am

    I’m finding that aging isn’t all I thought it would be. I assumed that if you did all the “right” things, your body wouldn’t start really “breaking down” until you were close to 70 (how naive and what a surprise!) But life is suffering, in part. And it’s also filled with such wonder and beauty that I’m grateful everyday for the chance to live it.

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