I recently wrote about The Descendants, a movie that portrays a family responding to multiple crises after the wife and mother sustains a serious injury that leaves her brain-dead.  I was particularly struck by a brief interaction between two characters.  Matt, husband of the dying woman, confronts Brian, with whom she was having an affair.   Matt wants answers.  Why was Brian sleeping with his wife?

“It just happened,” sputters Brian.

“Nothing just happens,” retorts Matt.

“Everything just happens,” Brian replies, exasperated.

The last two lines seem to me to be a dialectic that encompasses much of what happens to us.  On the one hand, none of the events of our lives are truly orphans; they are all connected in some sort of causal chain that we can trace backwards in time.  On the other hand, so many things that have an impact on us are unplanned and unforeseen; they just happen, or happen as a result of forces beyond our control and comprehension.

Thus, it didn’t just happen that I found myself in a marriage that was difficult and draining, or that we ended up divorced.  I knew going in that there might be struggles, and both of us contributed significantly to the problems we had.  Yet it did just happen; both of us worked hard on the relationship, and truly believed for years that we would be able to make things work.

It didn’t just happen that I’ve lived in southeastern North Carolina for 30 years, far from my native Michigan; I intentionally took a job in this area, then another, then another.  Yet it did just happen.  My children knew this place as home and were happy here, I formed many connections to the community, and developed a professional reputation that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere.  I should have anticipated all these things occurring, but didn’t give thought to how powerfully they would bind me to this place.

It also didn’t just happen that I moved from clinical practice to teaching about 10 years ago; I had wanted to make the change for about two years.  Yet it did just happen: having had no success in looking for teaching positions, I gave up, but there was an unexpected opening shortly before the school year started and the opportunity was suddenly available.

And now, it’s not just happening that I’m resigning my position and moving to Michigan.  Yet it is just happening; as I wrote earlier, I’m compelled to make the move because of my parents’ needs.

John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Those plans usually accomplish something: Nothing just happens.  Yet life (or fate, or destiny, or providence, or God) has a way of remaking our plans into something not intended: Everything just happens.