Level 4 Why

A little late, but I think still topical and something that I’ve taken a while to come to terms with.

I would say that we have a faint understanding of a lot of concepts in our lives, but those concepts are transformed when you experience them first hand. I conceptually understand what war is or what poverty is. But I’m sure if I talk to someone who has been to war or someone who has experienced true poverty, we’re going to have a much different understanding of that topic. I would think that if I gave them the dictionary definition, they would say that these concepts are much more than just a definition in a book.

What I’ve realized is that just because we understand something, it doesn’t mean that we are truly prepared for all of its nuances. These are lessons that can’t really be taught and are hard to truly articulate, and since we don’t know about them, they really stick with us and often make certain experiences even more impactful than what we originally think they will be.

A relevant example is what happened at the Pulse Nightclub just a 1 1/2 weeks ago.

Death by definition is not a difficult concept for us to understand. If you explain death to a 3-year-old, they will be able to tell that when something dies, it stops living. But kids don’t really comprehend the finality and inevitability of death until they are around 4 or maybe 5.

But just because we learn to accept the concept of death, we don’t fully experience it until something that we love dies.

The first question of “why” is understood. This is the dictionary definition. We get how something in our life can die and what that means.

The second “why” is often a reasonable explanation about how an individual passed. We understand that old age is a reason why people die, so we can easily say “natural causes/because they were old,” and that satisfies the answer to that second question. Going back to Pulse, we know those people are no longer with us because they were shot, and we understand that a bullet can kill end a life.

Sometimes, we can even answer a third “why” question with some kind of objective answer. If an unhealthy person has a heart attack, you understand that 1) people die, 2) heart attacks can kill people, and 3) you may be able to explain a heart attack through lifestyle choices. “3” likely caused “2”, which caused death (1). Going back to Pulse, we understand that the reason those people were shot was because a man had a strong conviction to harm people.

We might be able to provide an answer the next “why”, but that’s typically the level where we stop giving answers that satisfy the question. The answers to this level of questioning are concepts that are much harder to grasp at face value in the first place, and the complexity of that answer is further compounded with tragedy. These answers are less tangible, and ultimately, harder to accept. It’s this level that everyone really grapples with. This is what we think of when we think about death. When someone is asking this question about a loved one in the Pulse incident, what they are actually asking is “why did it happened to my loved one?”

“Why did it have to be them?”

What answer do you give that would satisfy this question? Even if you have an answer, you have to ask whether that answer is a concept that is easy to comprehend. Even if you truly knew the motive behind the gunman, that would not satisfy this question, because that doesn’t provide an answer around why that specific someone died over any other person. I would think that a majority of the people still struggling with this incident are struggling with this question.

I think the reason people are asking this question is partially attributed to the element of time. Death rarely comes at time that we find acceptable. It seems that most people in our lives are taken away from us too soon or too slowly. The individual who is missing their loved one from the Pulse shooting is thinking about how much life that person had left to live. They may be experiencing a similar pain to the individual who is watching their loved one slowly lose a battle to cancer.

Another component of this is the intensity and complexity of emotion that death brings. It’s not just sadness, but it is often accompanied by confusion, anger, fear and maybe even regret. These emotions bundled up into a level 4 “why” makes death one of the hardest experiences to really get through because you need to tackle each of these emotions individually before you are able to overcome it.

I’m a strong believer that every life serves a purpose. The difficult thing is that we may spend a majority of our lives trying to understand that purpose and never seeing it truly be realized. You think about Thomas Edison and his little light bulb, and I’m sure at one point, he probably thought “well, I hope this idea goes somewhere.” He’s not around to see how far it’s really come. I’d be lying if I said that I understood the purpose of these people losing their lives like this, and I would level-4 the hell out of someone who said they knew the reason. Regardless of the reason, they will never be here with us to see what kind of impact their life or death had on this earth.

Whatever your beliefs are on the multitude of issues that could be discussed as a result of this incident, please remember that all of these people were somebody’s loved one. They may not have meant anything to you, but anyone who has lost someone understands how critical of a part empathy plays in the healing process. And if you have also lost a loved one in an instance where you thought that person was taken too soon, than you may share something in common and understand just how far a little respect can go.

Thanks for reading.

– The 5-year-old


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