Somewhere, on a hilly countryside of autumn shades of yellow and orange, I rested, sat, and spoke to Rock. I asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Moss and grime covered the rock. It had been there for countless years. It had seen much time come and pass, and Rock responded with a sense of tedium. “In the time it will take me to explain, there are people who flee in terror for their lives. There are animals hunted, cornered, and killed. There are families that will die, and children that are born. The universe is apathetic, impartial, and blind to the tragedies and triumphs of those things that dwell within it. All suffer pain and experience joy in the quiet emptiness of space.”
“Not true,” said the grasshopper, leaping from the tall grass and landing in my lap. The grasshopper adjusted itself and balanced forward, rubbing its rear legs together. Hopper cocked its’ head to the right and said, “The universe isn’t at all impartial. It is governed by a beautiful, eternal being. It is the will of God that the righteous suffer pain. It is the will of God that animals are hunted, people flee, Hoppers jump, and Rocks are grumpy. We are, we've been, and we'll be by the greatness of the divine!”
A third voice chimed in. It was small, tiny, barely noticeable. A brown field mouse climbed atop Rock and leaned on its haunches and said, “And in saying that, Hopper argues that we’re all victims. Well, I don’t buy it. Do I foolishly leave my burrow when Snake is hunting? I know that my chances are slim; I’d likely be devoured! Instead, I wait until it is safe to leave. I’m not a victim. I make my own choices. I suffer my own consequences.”
I narrowed my eyes and lifted Mouse into my hand so I could hear her better. I asked, "But what if there isn't a choice to be made? I wish to just... to accept this moment and this time for what it is. I want to be content. I'm not sure if I have many choices, now, in these bad times of greed and fear... I'm not sure many of my kind have 'choices'-"
And then Hopper interrupted, “Fools! Choice is just an illusion. Everything’s preordained. God knows all, sees all, created all. It is all planned out in the Great Story. We suffer for the greatness of our souls! If you just read the Great Story -”
“Ridiculous,” Rock countered. “If what you said was true, Hopper, then there’s no benevolence in God. God designs the suffering for all. God would be a choreographer of all misery…”
And Hopper shouted, “But there is good reason for it! A divine plan! As the Good Story says, ‘That which doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger’. God plans our trials and tribulations for the work we must perform in life He’s given us…”
“…and just as unsettling,” continued Rock, “Mouse believes that she can control her circumstances; that her universe can be entirely manipulated and managed. Look how small and insignificant she is! I’d wager you struggle with that, Mouse: futily attempting to control everything about you. Why, I can no more control the winds that throw down the leaves that blanket me for the winter. Other times, I am blanketed by deep snow. Covered by leaves or snow, I am still Rock. The universe moves about me and I am unmovable. What happens, happens.”
Mouse scampered in my palm to face Rock and pointed a scolding finger. “You _choose_ not to move, Rock. It’s your choice to stay where you are and to endure the wet of the leaves or the cold of the snow. You could control where you roll and where you stay, but you choose this. And Hopper, if something bad is to happen to you, then it’s all explainable, isn’t it? You can abdicate responsibility for everything because it’s all in somebody else’s hands.”
“You are anxious and worried, aren’t you, Mouse,” I asked, and Mouse looked shyly to her feet.
“If I didn’t worry,” Mouse said, glancing away, “then I’d get eaten. I came close, once. Snake almost had me. See, I have a scar. Just here. It reminds me of Snake’s fangs. How much it hurt. I can do better next time, though. I'm smarter. I learn. I can make sure Snake doesn’t see me.”
Finally, I nodded to myself in understanding. Mouse breaks a universal law - the natural flow of things. It is her earnest intent to control in which her prison of anxiety is built, and within she'll never find contentment. Then, I turned my attention to Hopper. “And you are without blame. What happens to you is the will of the Higher Power."
Hopper folded his little green arms and smugly jeered.
"That is convenient," I said, and his smile waned, becoming a cross glare. "Too convenient; if all is set, you aren’t motivated to learn from experiences and change your behaviors.”
“And why should I?” retorted Hopper, crossing his four forward arms. “I know what is right in the universe and His plan for me. It is you who lives in ignorance. I know that I will be greatly rewarded for my faith at the End.”
Finally, I spoke directly to Rock. “And in your reckoning, the universe moves about you. The pain and suffering that befalls you is just as it is.”
“Nobody is good. Bad things aren’t evil,” Rock responded. “They just are. Things are as they will be. Bad things don’t befall me because I am not good and those things aren’t bad. They just are.”
I thought about this for a long time until finally I said, “So, ultimately, we can become so disconnected that our apathy for the world around us makes us stoic, cold, and stationary. We watch, we... over-analyze. We can remain disconnected and prideful about our disconnection. We can rationalize endlessly that the universe is a shallow and meaningless place. Instead of living, may watch all that which is alive and critique it, as life passes us by.”
All were quiet for a time. Then, as I stood to leave, Mouse said, very quietly to me, “I... I wish I had more faith. I wish I could trust more.”
“I wish there was more,” Rock admitted. “I would like to be more than what I am, and where I am, and who I am. Is there more than the observable?”
And Hopper pleaded, with tears, as much as a grasshopper can cry, “Why… why does God hate me so much? I work so hard every summer, but the winter always comes and I go hungry. Am I a bad person? Do I deserve it?”
I sat Mouse softly on the earth and stepped back a single step, brought my hands together in prayer and bowed. Then I said, “Thank you. You’re all very kind, and I think I understand now. I realize that I cannot possibly control everything. I realize that I cannot retreat from the world and critique it. I realize that I must retain faith and hope in things better. I must strive to see the world as it is; I must humbly accept the lessons I’ve learned; I must not succumb to paranoia or despair over my shortcomings; I must have faith in the moment of now.”
And with that, Rock - predictably - said nothing. Mouse scampered into the tall grass then disappeared. And Hopper leaped into the air and bounded away. Alone in the wood, I turned away, walked my own path, and returned home.