Nothing about Marcus Aurelius’ reign was fair. Fate tested him with one catastrophe after another. The Parthians invaded and triggered a war that would last five years. Then the River Tiber flooded, destroying homes and livestock, causing a famine in Rome. Then, after victory against the Parthians, Romans brought back a deadly contagion, which became known as the Antonine Plague. Then, crippled by famine and plague, hostile tribes to the north seized the opportunity to band together and attacked the Romans—a war that would last the rest of his days.
And while all of that was going on, he lost eight children—some in infancy, some to the plague. Then, just as it looked like his fortunes might be turning, Marcus came down with the disease. His doctors’ diagnosis gave him only a few days to live. The ancient Roman historian Cassius Dio tells us he immediately summoned “the best men of the senate” to make his final command: that they counsel and guide his son Commodus.
It doesn’t matter if Fate deals us an unfair hand, it doesn’t matter if a pandemic upends life as we know it, it doesn’t matter if we’re told we only have a few days left. We still have a job—our most important job—to do. The sports journalist and mom of two, Kelsie Snow, has been writing beautifully about this on her blog. Two years ago, eighteen months after having a stroke, Snow’s husband was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 37. “During our darkest days last June,” she wrote, “our son had baseball practice. Because even if your heart has been ripped from your chest, your kids still have school and sports and you still have to feed them and do laundry.”
Nobody deserves what Snow and her husband are going through. Nobody deserves the steady dose of misfortune Marcus was showered with. It is unfair. Life is. If it hasn’t yet been to you yet, just wait.
Of course, we’ll feel pain. We’ll be sad, crushed even, by things that happen. We can shake our fist at the sky, we can scream our tonsils out, we can smash the Lego castle against the wall, but then we have to get back to work. Our son has practice to get to, our daughter has school tomorrow, our family needs food on the table.
It’s not always going to be fair, but it won’t stop. It can’t. And neither can you.