Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I'm curious whether you believe or think things "happen for a reason" and "God/higher power only gives us what we can handle," or are things just random? I ask because my mom told me some sad news about a relative. I would never be able to cope with that situation. Of course, I have had tough times and disappointments that were painful but eventually was able to get through them.

What do you think about the random life events or "divine plan" events debate?

— Seeking Perspective on Life

Seeking Perspective on Life: Oh, I think it’s a complete crapshoot.

Randomness from birth to death, although we get our chance to weigh in by responding to the circumstances we’re given.


(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

I also see the maxim you cite, that deities give us only what we can handle, as getting close to what actually happens but missing by a hair.

I think the vast majority of the time, we find a way to handle whatever happens to us, because that’s what life is. We wake up to whatever we wake up to and then muddle through it. So I’d write it just like that: We tend to handle whatever the deities hand us.

The other version puts our personal capabilities at the center and therefore is more yay-for-you inspiring, so use that one for the cat poster.

To illustrate, I’ll take your example: From the distance of just hearing it from your mom, you regard the sad news of your relative as something you would never be able to cope with. But if it had become your news without warning, part of your life trajectory, then I’m betting heavily on you to have coped with it. Because that’s what humans do.

Sometimes they don’t, obviously — some people break under the weight of what their lives become. But most endure and even find ways to feel joy again, and they dare to make new connections even after the severing of an old one causes nearly unbearable pain.

Think of the conditions under which so many humans have lived and now live. Think of the losses we’ve borne.

Would any survivor of a genocide have thought beforehand, “I’d be able to cope with that situation”?

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are planning our son's bar mitzvah. We've set a budget of about $10,000, which is enough for a catered luncheon with a DJ for the kids after the service. My son and the kids will also be participating in an activity the next day.

My in-laws said people flying in for a bar mitzvah expect to be fed, and it's outrageous that we're not providing dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. They said we need to bump our budget up to the $30,000 to $40,000 range; my father-in-law doesn't believe in casual food, only fine dining, and expects everything to be top-shelf.

We told them we didn't have that kind of money to spend on a bar mitzvah. My mother-in-law is demanding that we feed everyone or she won't come. My husband told her that's her decision. What else can we do?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Hug your husband. His was the perfect response.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.