Bad Things Do Happen To Good People

It used to surprise me, shock me even when “bad” things would show up in my world.  I used to think “I am a good person.  Why is this happening?”  If you try to be good to others and live your life with some integrity and kindness then you are supposed to have a good life, right?

That’s that way I thought it was supposed to work.

In the distant past, I was raped, my brother died of AIDS, and my 18-year marriage ended in an ugly divorce.  “OK, maybe I wasn’t quite the person I should have/could have been,” I was willing to admit. In the recent past, I have really cleaned up my act.  I’m the best person I know how to be.  Heck, I’m one of the most diligent, honest, compassionate, clean living and, yes, boring people around.

Bad things still happen.  Huh?

Making Sense Of My Bad Things

My two teenage sons moved to a different state with their father since my brain injury/suicide attempt over 4 years ago. He and I still do not have a cooperative, congenial relationship at all despite being apart for almost 8 years now.  A year ago, he filed charges against me causing the court to stop all my visitation with the children on an emergency basis until the matter could be resolved.   Rightly so.  The court erred on the side of caution to keep the kids out of any danger because they did not know if the charges were true or not.  The children were 16 and 13 years old at the time.

The court system is painfully slow.  It took 6 months to get to court.  During this time, I had no visitation with the children.  No Thanksgiving.  No Christmas.  Over that whole time, I saw them for one day during a supervised visit at a hotel.  We did communicate via the phone and electronically.

My philosophy these days is to minimize my legal participation as much as possible and engage only when it is necessary to protect myself and my rights, but this was hard.  Damn hard!  I sent a message to my lawyer demanding that he “DO SOMETHING NOW!”  When we finally did get to court, I won on all accounts and the visitation was reinstated in full without supervision.  However, then it took 3 more months for the court order to be entered during which time, the visitation did not resume.

When the charges were first filed, I was terribly pained, angry, and distressed. As the ordeal progressed, however, I began to find a sense of peace, wholeness, and self-identity as I let the wisdom of the experience shape and teach me.  I began to accept the limits of what I could reasonably affect without overreacting and jeopardizing the other priorities in my life.  Instead of letting this issue consume all of my financial resources, time, and energy, I focused on my own life and goals.  While making significant progress here, I let the legal events unfold, sometimes rather impatiently. Without divulging the specific details, I wrote a blog about it, The Peace Amidst The Pain.

The separation actually allowed my relationship with the kids to evolve and deepen.  It is probably similar to the process any parent goes through when a child leaves home and there is not frequent contact, I would think.  I developed an unshakable sense of trust in the universe and in them.  I also learned that our love for each other transcends any distance or any length of time.  They expressed similar sentiments.

More Bad (Made Good)

Also in the “WTF?” category:  A friend since college, Charlie Engle, overcame a crack and alcohol addiction in his twenties to successfully complete a fundraising run across the Sahara Desert and a similar effort to run across the US, both while in his forties.  He is a motivational speaker, has given countless hours to charitable causes, is a caring father, and all-around good guy.

In February of 2011, Charlie began serving a 21-month sentence in federal prison for mortgage fraud. After seeing the documentary about Charlie’s run across the Sahara Desert, an IRS agent, wondering how someone could finance such an endeavor, launched a full investigation of Charlie with no more cause than that. After an exhaustive investigation requiring over 700 man-hours including far-fetched criminal theories, dumpster diving, disguises, impersonations, and a sexy secret agent wearing a wire, the government brought charges against Charlie. (Read more)

His crime?  Overstating his income on a mortgage loan was common practice during the peak housing bubble of the last decade.  In an article in the New York Times, Jo Nocera writes:

Most of the other Wall Street bigwigs whose firms took unconscionable risks — risks that nearly brought the global financial system to its knees — aren’t even on Justice’s radar screen. Nor has there been a single indictment against any top executive at a subprime lender…Two and a half years after the world’s financial system nearly collapsed, you’re entitled to wonder whether any of the highly paid executives who helped kindle the disaster will ever see jail time…”

So, the government finally put someone in jail for the mortgage crisis – Charlie Engle.

You would think Charlie would be beside himself with anger and pity, and, while he did experience some of these emotions initially and still does occasionally, he has approached this segment of his life admirably as a learning experience and as another adventure.  At his sentencing, Charlie told the judge that he was confident he’d turn negatives into positives and that he would make the best of his time in prison. He was quoted as saying “Even though this is not the ideal situation, I have an open mind and am approaching this with great curiosity.  Every experience in life has the ability to teach lessons if I am open to them.”

Strangely enough, my less than ideal situation of the past year and the lessons I learned from it, were perfect to share with Charlie as he prepared for his journey to jail.  I found much wisdom and peace in the writings of Pema Chodron, and he did as well.  He is putting his energy and time to good use while in prison. He posted on Facebook recently (through others – no, they don’t have access to Facebook in jail.)

Nice weather, good runs, great books and writing every day. Life is strangely good and fulfilling right now. It is what I make it.

Bad and Good Are Both Integral Parts of Life

The takeaway from all this is that life is not fair. Sometimes, it makes no sense at all. Bad things do happen to good people.  Expect it.  It is part of it.  BUT, that doesn’t mean it is all bad.  Even in difficult times, there’s still joy, peace, beauty, and wisdom to be found.  You have to consciously decide to look for and/or make them happen.

Sometimes, I may have to get out the magnifying glass, but the good is always there if I look hard enough.  Peace and happiness are a choice I make every day in my thoughts and behavior. I’d rather focus on and put my time and energy into what’s going to help me rather than hurt me.

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  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie, thanks for a quite brilliant, honest post on life. There is no awareness of good without bad. Neither can the ‘moral’ conscience be absolved or satisfied without a scapegoat. oh, that everyone could see off the enemy within. And, of course, ‘You are a Good Person’, of that there is no doubt. You take care, Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for your endorsement of me as a good person! 🙂 These days, I am. I know this to be true. I really do not see anything as “good” or “bad” anymore. It is just all part of the richness of life.

  2. Hi Debbie,
    This is a great post. I’m so sorry to hear about all that you’ve been through but, I can see that you’ve learned a lot from your many ordeals – which is a good thing. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend too. He seems to have a terrific attitude though. We can always change things that happen in our lives but we can take control of our attitude.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Angela, thank you for your kind words. I truly am appreciative for the “bad” and the “good” in my life. I have grown so much through it all and have become a better person. Also, I know everything that manifests in my life does so for a deeper reason. It is up to me to to find the lesson in it and let it soften and mold me. Charlie has a similar attitude and will reap similar rewards.

  3. That lesson, that bad things happen to good people (because bad things AND good things happen to ALL people), that is a difficult one.

    Good things happen to bad people too, or rather all people are both good and bad, so what matters is how you react to the good and bad that happens to you. What you do when you face obstacles, that’s such an indicator and shaper of character.

    Confession is hard, important work. If you were here, I’d give you an ice cream, or a hug – maybe both.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks, Mikey, you made me laugh out loud with the ice cream or hug comment. Ben & Jerry’s Carmel Sutra for me, please!

      It is very freeing to give up trying to control everything so that “bad” things do not happen or to try to live your life in a manner as to dodge them. As you say, the only thing I can really control is my reaction and that in itself makes something “bad” or “good.” I think, actually, that life would be kinda boring with all good. It is the variety that makes up the interesting texture of life. I am good no matter what.

  4. Thanks for sharing this honest and inspiring account of your survival story? Did you find this hard to write Debbie?

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback. I did not find this hard to write at all. The brain injury helped me to learn to become detached. I think that (this is my medical synopsis) it literally, physically wiped out the emotional connections to past memories at first. This was a gift as it allowed and taught me to live in the present moment because, right after the brain injury, it was all I could do.

      I used to be the world’s best at torturing myself by playing an endless loop in my mind of the painful past….hence, the suicide attempt. Now, it is like watching a movie of events happening to someone else. I have learned healthy tools to reframe the thoughts, and I have changed my perspective and reaction to such events. I really do not feel much pain or anger at all anymore about anything. Yipee!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for those sentiments. I feel it gives everything more meaning and purpose to be able to share my experiences and learning. Maybe…just maybe, someone can learn something from my saga.

  5. Debbie,
    I first read about Charlie Engle in the GSO newspaper and thought what a crime. I also was inspired by his approach to his jail sentence. So when I saw the story of his run across the Sahara I had to see what motivated this man. What an inspiring movie. Your life and the way you handle it are just as inspiring. Love reading your posts.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks, Tony. You know it has been a learning process and journey. Thanks for your contribution to it. It makes me chuckle to think that I (who me?) could be any body’s spiritual teacher of any kind, but I was more than glad to share what I have learned with Charlie. It is very much a mutually beneficial friendship. We reconnected right after my brain injury. His life story made me think for the first time that a comeback may actually be possible for me.

  6. Dear Debbie,

    There is so much wisdom and inspiration in this article! The funny thing is that most of us approach life in the opposite fashion and it just brings us more pain and sorrow. It’s only through acceptance and letting go that we can truly find happiness and peace as you have clearly demonstrated in your life story.

    I’m sorry for all the pain that you have suffered and the difficult year you have been through. I bet it was such a joy to be freely reunited with your children again!

    In my spiritual tradition, it’s believed that bad – and good – things happen to use as a result of our past actions. When the causes and conditions come together, the karma ripens and we experience the result. We can continue the cycle and create more negative karma by how we react or we can cut the cycle by letting go as you have done. I rejoice for your success and insight.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, thank you so much for your compassionate sentiments. You know what, though? It does not even seem like a difficult year to me in retrospect. Yes, I did miss sharing in particular ways with my children, but we learned to do so in other ways that were just as special. These “particular ways” are really expectations about what is “normal.” It was not “normal” in that we did not spend holidays and such, but we still managed to maintain a great relationship. I think we even appreciate each other more now. Of course, this attitude unfolded as the events and time did. I did not always see it this way.

      There really seems to be no negative effect for them or myself. We have had a great summer filled with laughter, joy, and love. I live in the present and do not dwell on the past at all except to reflect and learn. I also made some excellent progress on my own goals with all the time I had. I like to think that I am building some good karma!

  7. Hi debbie you mentioned that your a clean person. Can u elaborate it plz. Or send me by email. Thanx for the post

  8. Debbie Hampton Reply

    I said that “I cleaned up my act”. It is a slang phrase for improved myself. I meant that I have gotten healthy mentally and emotionally through tools like meditation, thought reframing, affirmations, visualization, etc… I quit playing the victim, took responsibility for my life and my actions. I started acted consciously with intention instead of emotionally reacting.

  9. gayan 4s6ggs Reply

    In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.

    • gayan 4s6ggs Reply

      Is there an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people?…The response would be…to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us, and to go on living despite it all…no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened

      • Debbie Hampton Reply

        Thanks for commenting. I couldn’t agree more. Yes, life becomes a matter of how we will respond to anything that happens and, therein, is the power to change our lives and realities!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Wise observation. Happiness and peace lie in how we think and the questions we ask ourselves. Love it! 🙂

  10. I am amazed at your strength, Debbie. Thank you for sharing so authentically and for reaffirming something I know to be true from my own life experience.

  11. dblhampton Reply

    Thanks for your kind words, Corrine. How’s the saying go, “You never know how strong you are until you have no other choice.” I wouldn’t make the same choices, but I do not regret or begrudge any of it. It all brought me to the happy, mentally healthy person I am today. I consider everything lessons and just part of the journey. Hopefully, from here on, I don’t have to learn through pain, but it worked! 🙂

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