Hard to believe it took so long. Not hard to believe who started it. In 1841 Edgar Allen Poe, the king of the macabre, published The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Poe’s work introduced the world’s first fictional detective, Auguste C. Dupin. He was followed by such famous crime-solvers as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Ellery Queen, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Charlie Chan, Mike Hammer, and on and on. Today, readers can’t seem to get enough of them. About 25-40% of all fiction books are about solving crimes.
What accounts for their appeal? Perhaps it’s because in life, we want explanations. We need to understand why things happened the ways they did. We don’t like the feeling of random acts springing out of nowhere. So we look for a cause, exactly the job of the detective searching for a criminal. And as the detective goes about his business, the readers join in the fun of sifting through clues, evaluating theories, backtracking from dead-ends, and reaching an oft-surprising ending. There is great satisfaction in discovering that a mysterious problem really did have an explanation.
Our world is filled with mysteries of all sorts. And sleuths that we are, we search for reasons. Many mysteries that confused earlier generations have now been solved. We know why the planets aren’t in a continual freefall and why all those people in the southern hemisphere don’t fall off the face of the earth. We know why tree leaves turn colors. We know why an eagle can fly but an elephant can’t. Of course, science hasn’t solved every mystery. No one seems to understand why cows graze in a north-south direction. Or why, in the development of the species, some mammals returned to the sea. Or why there is such an incredible diversity of life near the equator, whether beautiful plants or horrible diseases. Yet for most of us, the answers are unimportant. We love the cows for what they produce, so they can graze any which direction they want. We marvel at whales, and we vacation in the tropics. Now as for which came first, the chicken or the egg, we’d love an answer to that one.
But there are those mysteries about which even the most rational and scientific explanations do not satisfy. Why were we born where we were? Why are some people born with silver spoons in their mouths yet others are born to abject poverty? Why must some people walk through life unable to see or hear, or even to walk? Why does shrapnel from a hand grenade whiz by a soldier and kill his best friend? Why does an eleven-year old develop leukemia? Why are there widows and widowers? For that matter, why do we die?
These are just few, a very few, of the mysteries of life. And some of them center on the creation of life. Oh, we know just how and when life gets created. Science solved those mysteries long ago. But others leave us puzzled. Why does a married couple unsuccessfully try for years to have a baby, while two teens on a one-night stand conceive a child that they wouldn’t want in a million years? Why must a victim of rape or incest find herself pregnant with the criminal’s child? Didn’t she suffer enough? Why do those best laid plans for a new career or a better paying job accidentally go awry? Why does poverty beget more poverty? Why must expectant parents learn that their child will only have week, days, or hours after birth to live? The scientific answers don’t calm the anguish or relieve the pain.
Our measure as persons is not based on how long we can live a problem-free life. It is how well we can deal with the adversities that inevitably come our way. Unfortunately, in our me-first, throw-away culture, we often see life itself as a problem to be solved by death. Wanted the sex but not the baby? Simple answer: abort the baby. Don’t want to raise a criminal’s child? Kill the child. Not the best time to have a baby? Get a “quick fix;” perhaps another time will work out better. Baby “incompatible with life?” Terminate it now and try again. Problems solved? Not really, for everything we do has an aftermath, and it can be far worse than the problem.
There is a better way. It is to see life’s unexpected troubles through the eyes of faith. It allows us to see that life does not center on us. Realizing that we are part of something bigger, we can face the things we cannot fully understand. And so our adversities no longer become problems to be solved but mysteries to be embraced. We come to know the loving hand of God in our lives. We are not the random acts of a distant deity. God made us a reason. We have a purpose in His plan, and so do the littlest among us.
For those who have embraced the mystery, the doors to happiness and peace open wide. As a teen, Lauran was raped by an older boy she trusted. Rejecting abortion, she and her daughter Isabella now are outspoken advocates for life. Both know they are part of God’s plan, and neither is afraid of the future. Sheryl and Scott’s first six pregnancies ended in miscarriages. Three days after the birth of Simon, they learned of his terminal illness. For 88 days, they dealt with the highs and lows. But they understand the blessing. “God did not bless us with a syndrome. God blessed us with a son. His name was Simon. Simon’s story is filled with compassion and outrage. It is a story of a child knit together by the hand of God.” Sara has now learned that she has the Zika virus. The future is unknown, but she is stepping into it. “I’m not happy that my baby is going to be born with Zika but God has given me a miracle.” They see life as mystery, and so they live it as gift and even as miracle.
“How can this be, for I do not know man?” It was Mary’s question to an angel. “How can this be, for I don’t know you?” was probably Joseph’s question to Mary. Try to imagine how puzzled they must have been. But together, they embraced the mystery, with all it would bring. “For unto us a Child is born.” Their child; our Savior. The Mystery of Life come down from Heaven. Only God could have authored that story. Merry Christmas!
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.