If you’ve taken any American Lit classes at all, there’s about a 98.2% chance that you’ve read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. It’s a great little twisted story and it’s full of all kinds of things that literature teachers love… I just can’t remember any of those things any more. I’m left with remembering that I liked the story and that’s okay for me. I write videogame reviews, but I honestly was never any good at picking apart literature and seeing all the stuff I was supposed to.
Anyway, I’m going to assume that you’ve read the story (and if you haven’t, follow that link up there and go read it real quick and come back – I’ll wait here), so you know the ending to it. The town has made their choice and Mrs. Hutchinson is it. Scapegoat time, dearie. Here’s the last line in the story:
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
Everybody in town had the same exact chance of being chosen as she did, but of course that meant nothing to her once she was. That, I think, is usually how it is. The phrase “it isn’t fair” is generally only uttered by a person who thinks they’re getting the raw end of a deal. You never hear someone who just got free ice cream say “It isn’t fair that no one else got this!” Sean Penn didn’t say, “It isn’t fair that Mickey Rourke didn’t get this” when he won his Oscar this year. We only tend to bust out the “it isn’t fair” when we don’t like what’s happening.
It’s been a few years, enough so I don’t remember exactly how many, but I made a concerted effort to excise the phrase “it isn’t fair” out of my vocabulary. Of course, I’m not perfect, so it still works its way in from time to time, but its frequency has been less and less. Videogames that cheat are most often the recipients of the phrase, but it has snuck into actual life here and there.
I had to make the choice for me because I felt it was damaging me. More correctly, it wasn’t helping me, and it held me back from making choices. If it wasn’t fair and God or life or whatever else was just out to get me, then there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well get angry and sit there and fume. If I realize that life just isn’t “fair” sometimes and I need to just get on with living anyway, that helps me be more productive in my response to the “unfair” circumstances.
The thing is, I don’t really want life to be fair. I have been a jerk to people often in my life. If life was completely fair, I’d be paying for that for the rest of my time here. Every cutting remark would come back to me, every lie, every time I took the bigger piece of cake, every time I broke my parents’ hearts, every time I hurt someone I loved, every time I cut someone off in traffic — all of that, heaped back on my head. No, thank you. I’d prefer that life not be fair.
The Bible teaches me that if things were fair, I’d get a lot worse, too. But the Bible also teaches me some great things about the greatness of an unfair life:
- James 1:17 (NIV) – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – Anything good that happens to me comes from God, and He never changes.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – “Temptation” can be read “trial” there – God doesn’t give me more than I can handle.
- Romans 8:28 (NASB) – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – God knows the end from whatever beginnings I am going through, and He’s promised that it is good.
So, I try. I try to understand when I can’t. I try to not worry when I can’t understand. Even with those promises staring me right in the face, I’m not always good at it, and I am sometimes really, really bad at it. I try to remember that I deserve a lot of bad stuff, and when good stuff happens… well, it’s like William Munny said:
Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
And I’m okay with that.