Novelist Amy Bloom wrote an essay for the December 2009 issue of Real Simple on some of the lessons in life she’d picked up so far. The first one was “Events reveal people’s character; they don’t determine them.” I tore the page out of the magazine to ponder this one some more. For a week, I’ve thought about it. Some days, I agree with it whole-heartedly. Other days I disagree just as vehemently. But now I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s right.
Now this is not to say that events, both horrifying and wonderful, don’t affect us in penetrating and often painful ways. But there simply is not the clear-cut cause and effect relationship that so many of us use to pin blame on why we’re unhappy or mean or selfish, etc. Two people may have an awful time in relationships. One may blame it on the fact her parents divorced when she was a small child. The other is just as committed to the idea that it’s because her parents stayed together unhappily. For every person who’s been cheated on and swears that he/she can never love again, there’s another one who’s bravely bandaged up the wounds and risks pain in order to have a happy relationship the second time around. Even the truly horrifying things, like disease and death of a loved one, are often transcended by those who are able to see beyond the horrible for maybe just a second one day and then two seconds the next, and so on until they are able to see how there can still be purpose.
If Amy Bloom is right, then the next time something happens to us, it is probably not in our best interest to scream against the universe, crying that we can’t help but be miserable and angry because this thing happened to us. Instead, we should look to see what our reaction to such events says about us and then see what we can change about our character. Because in the end, that really is the only thing we can change.