It was a Wednesday afternoon, not a dark and stormy night. Brilliant sunlight was streaming through the windows of the Art and Architecture Building, as I was making my way to my art class. My mind was abuzz, as it usually is mid-week, and things had happened that week; good, sad, surprising, encouraging, disheartening, all manner of things. There was a lot going on, inwardly and right in front of me, and I almost passed it. I saw it, thought nothing of it, and almost didn’t stop to take a closer look.
A plain white envelope, with the word “HELLO” written on it in blue Sharpie, sat inconspicuously on a table. That’s it. No one’s name on it, it didn’t say “hey, pick me up random person,” nothing.
So I took it.
It’s funny the random things that happen to us. Are they actually random? I know people who don’t believe in randomness, who shun the idea of luck or coincidence; who believe that it is God behind everything. Is it really God? Is it God working through other people? Is it really just random and—hooray!—it seems to work out for us?
It’s entirely metaphysical to think that I was somehow destined to be the person who walked by that envelope at the time that I did and picked it up. That could mean it was meant for me, meant for my hands to touch it and my eyes to see it. But what if that wasn’t so? What if there was another person who needed to see it more than I did? What then? If we walk by a potentially random “blessing” and don’t pick it up, does it then go to someone else?
I think it’s important for me to say here that I don’t fucking know. I don’t even know exactly what I believe about this because there are so many factors, so many facets of what could be and what is and what does it mean. I know we all make choices, some of them good and healthy, some of them based on selfishness and fear; and I know we all deal with consequences of said choices, sometimes great and exhilarating consequences, sometimes lonely and severe consequences. I’ve experienced God in both types. I know God can make things happen, things we would never expect or imagine, but I also know we make things happen too. And I know that no two people have the same experience even if they go through similar things.
How does God decide who sees what, who gets what, who goes where? Does he have a hat with all of our names in it and he just draws out a name randomly? Does he put his godly hands to the temple of his head, close his eyes, do a little meditating hum, and say, “Today, I’m going to bless…this person.” Or can we find God’s presence and his blessing in the middle of any circumstance or consequence, good or bad, exhilarating or severe? What if God’s presence is the blessing?
I think sometimes that our emphasis is misplaced. We seem to put a lot of emphasis on receiving blessings or acting in ways that don’t require us to deal with hard consequences, when I think God is looking for ways to transform our hearts and minds, little by little, and sometimes a lot by a lot; I don’t think he’s actively looking for ways he can make us happy or make our lives easier. To be honest, the closer I think I get to God, the less my life is easier, and rather than “happiness,” what I experience seems closer to joy. Maybe our definitions need some evaluation… What is happiness? What is a blessing? What is misery and suffering?
I think that in the midst of our lives, we make choices that can support who we are and what our purpose is, and God rewards those things. We can take risks and put ourselves out there somewhat randomly, having no idea what the outcome may be, or if there will be any kind of outcome at all. I think God supports the risks. I think God supports the transformative. And I think he works in conjunction with people who might believe they’re just doing something on the fly, whether big or small.
Sometimes we do random things and we have no idea how God will use them.
I sat down in the hallway outside my art class; next to a woman I barely know who is also in class with me. I smiled at her and told her about finding the envelope and OMG what’s inside? We opened it together and pulled out the slip of paper that said,
I don’t know if she needed to see it, but I certainly did, especially right then on that very day. It could’ve been meant for me, but it could’ve been meant for her, or for Leah, to whom I texted a picture immediately, or for the multitudes of people on Facebook and Instagram who saw it because I posted it on both. Was it God? Was it random? I’m not really closer to knowing. I am however, closer to saying that it could’ve been God working in conjunction with the random, with another person or people who had the idea to make this and put it where someone could pick it up. Does it matter? I’m different because I saw it and read it and remembered that I’m all those adjectives on that list. I was transformed by it, even for just a few minutes, and maybe that was the point all along.
However close I get to what might be an answer, I still have no idea what God is doing. I have no idea what he is doing in Syria or how he might be meeting those people caught up in a bloody civil war. I have no idea what he is doing in Egypt or Afghanistan or Iraq or Brazil or Guatemala or the United States of America. I have no idea why a woman my age in Syria could be living in a refugee camp having lost everything and I’m sitting in my air conditioned workspace. Hell, I have no idea how a woman my age could live just down the street from me and live in the most extreme poverty I’ve ever witnessed firsthand, while I go to school and can afford to have a car. It is totally not fair. But what is fair? What is justice? I currently feel like I want to shake the bars of whatever cage we’ve put these things into and demand answers.
I realize I could gracefully end this post with the paragraph above, the one where I’m transformed by a random act some random person did. But it’s no longer about me. It’s no longer my desire to be only on the receiving end of the random acts. I want to be random and aid in transformation. I want to work somehow in the God-random conjunction junction of the universe.