The Search for Meaning

Falling and breaking my shoulder is probably the clumsiest thing I have ever done. I’ve tripped and fallen before, but landing in such a way that I knocked the head of the humerus totally off the shaft seems absolutely ridiculous. How could I have been so stupid?

That’s the inner dialogue I try not to hold with myself. It’s futile, and I can’t rewind the film and do it over, anyway.

Interestingly enough, some well-meaning friends, especially the more spiritually inclined ones, tend to search for a hidden meaning behind the injury. The most extreme version was an article someone shared claiming that injuries to the right arm in this period of time signify a necessary step towards ascension, by taking out the dominance of the left brain. (The right side of the body is ruled by the left brain hemisphere).

I happen to be very happy with the fact that both my brain hemispheres work equally hard and in good harmony with each other, thank you!

Some years ago, when someone dear to me was (successfully) battling colorectal cancer, her father shocked her by asking, “So why do you think you got sick?” “Do you mean, what did I do to deserve this?” “Yes, I guess you could put it that way.” Such lack of empathy is mind-boggling, however well-intentioned.

But mankind has always searched for the meaning behind things we don’t understand. It’s how we learn. You see it reflected in the insatiable curiosity of a 5-year-old. Primitive man witnessed the wonders of life and death and tried to find meaning behind these huge, incomprehensible happenings: sunrises, eclipses, earthquakes, success at hunting, birth, illness. Within the limits of understanding, they created stories to make sense of the world. The stories evolved and changed. We call this mythology. Joseph Campbell spent his life studying and describing the evolution of world mythologies.

One of the mysteries that has called for explanation was the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? Are they the victim of witchcraft, cursed by a jealous member of the tribe? Have they unwittingly invoked the wrath of an angry god or goddess? In the Judaic-Christian tradition, this question gave birth to the concept of Original Sin. Bad things happen because the First Man and First Woman disobeyed God’s orders. And all their descendants, therefore, bear the weight of God’s punishment and struggle their entire lives to attain redemption.

Whether or not we have put the knowledge to good use, our knowledge of the universe has grown, and mankind now understands much about the wonders of life and death. One of the key bits of knowledge is the fact that important things can happen in random ways. Random, chaotic events may have led to the very creation of the universe as we know it. For an easy to understand approach to this science, I can recommend Prof. Brian Cox’s Wonders series.

My fall was a random happening with nasty repercussions. It carries no hidden meaning. I will take one important lesson from it: stay focused when I’m walking on an uneven surface!


  1. Yikes shoulder injuries are a bummer. I fell a year ago and still can’t do push ups although I now have pretty much full range of motion. I too was walking on an uneven surface and had even recently told myself if I fall I should roll. Didn’t happen: I stepped on a hidden rock and fell with all my weight on that shoulder. I now am extra careful when carrying a load which blocks my vision.
    Sending healing thoughts your way.

  2. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    I agree that very bad things happen randomly. When they do, we are stunned and can only think of the pain and disruption to our daily lives. Eventually we adjust to the change and find ourselves moving forward again and sometimes even in a better way, as we have had to make time to really think about what is truly important in our lives.
    I think of you, challenged by only having the use of your left hand, dismissing the usually daily tasks that are unmanageable and instead watching for the wonderful wildlife that comes to seek that special haven you have worked to provide for them. I hope your shoulder heals well and soon, as I know you will be wanting to get right back out there with them!

  3. Ouch Madeleine. Not humorous at all!!

    When, as you say, primitive man witnessed the wonders of life and death and tried to find meaning behind these huge, incomprehensible happenings: sunrises, eclipses, earthquakes, didn’t another God often miraculously appear as the explanation?

    I often used to wonder why theology insists on saying God created Man when everyone knows Man created God – and not just one.

    Get well soon.


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