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A SHORT STORY: It’s Not Fair by Lorilyn Roberts

Last updated on September 5, 2022

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Hope walked out of the courthouse tired and hungry. After a three-hour deposition filled with too much banter between irate lawyers, she wanted to grab a bite to eat before heading home. While 24-hour rush jobs for court reporters paid well, when unexpected, they sucked. How many times had a rush job bashed her plans for the evening? But at least tonight, she had no plans.

The quickest dinner would be takeout Chinese food. Hope went to Kung Fu near her condo and bought some orange chicken and rice. Kung Fu always added a free fortune cookie. After eating most of her meal, she opened the fortune. On a small slip of paper inside the cookie were the words, “Life is not fair.”

“What kind of fortune is that?” Hope muttered. “What does that mean?”

She thought about the clinic she drove by on the way home and the women waiting outside. Was it fair that the babies in those mothers’ wombs would never see the light of day, feel a mother’s breath on their face, or know what it was like to be loved? Hope lamented, “Those babies will die because their mothers don’t want them.”

She remembered the panhandlers who came up to her car begging for money as she sat at the red light. Had life been fair to them? Probably not. They would likely say life had not only been unfair but unkind. The idea that life wasn’t fair had never struck Hope in such a profound way.

Over the next few days, the idea of life not being fair became an obsession. She saw how hard some people worked and earned only minimum wage. Was that fair? Perhaps the workers could make more if they went to school or received training in a skill. But maybe they didn’t have the money, intelligence, or opportunity to do that.

When Hope drove by the hospital, she thought about all the patients undergoing treatment for various ailments, like cancer, heart disease, and names of diseases she couldn’t even pronounce.

One day, after succumbing to depression over her inability to understand how anyone could be happy, she went to the beach. Stashed in her bag was bread to feed the seagulls. Hope noticed one seagull was lame, but he pushed his way through the crowd of frenetic, cocky birds and snatched a couple of crumbs. His tenacity inspired Hope, and she tried harder to get the crumbs to him. When the bread was gone, the lame bird hobbled off with bread crumbs filling his happy belly.

“Maybe there is more to this ‘it’s not fair’ thing than meets the eye,” Hope said as she climbed into her car. Was it fair that the poor bird had an accident? Maybe he was in a fight. Maybe he was born that way. Did it matter how he got hurt?

Hope noted the lame seagull wasn’t sitting around feeling sorry for himself; he was surviving. He was fighting with every ounce of strength he had to make it even with all the odds stacked against him—because he lived in an unfair world.

Hope’s thoughts returned to mothers who didn’t want their babies. What chance did a helpless babe have at the scalpel of a skilled surgeon? She couldn’t be sure, but she had heard that the doctors did their deed while the baby was still alive. Once a body dies, the organs die almost immediately. Now she was more depressed. Some circumstances provided no hope and no future. It wasn’t fair. In fact, it was worse than that. It was inhumane.

Hope focused on the seagull again. Life had dealt the bird an unfair blow, but he chose to make the best of it. Was he just lucky that he had survived?

Luck of the draw, that’s what it was. How depressing, though, to believe life was nothing more than karma. Some people receive good karma, and some people receive bad karma. Hope shook her head. “No, that can’t be true. There must be something that controls the world besides karma and luck.”

The idea of life being nothing more than a series of chances bothered Hope. “So, does that mean you cast your dreams upon the waters and hope one of them comes true?” Hope shook her head again. “If that were so, that would mean life was just a chasing after the wind.”

Trying to make sense of it, Hope argued, “If everything that happens is just by chance, what difference does it make what kind of person you are? You can be a good person and have bad luck, or you can be a bad person and have good luck.”

That thought alone made Hope angry. She wanted justice, but, as the fortune cookie said, “Life is not fair.”

One day Hope decided to make a sandy butterfly way station for new monarch butterflies. She had seen the butterfly garden at Epcot and remembered how the butterflies would emerge sticky wet after undergoing a metamorphosis from the chrysalis. They would seek a place to dry off before heading into the sky on their magical journey across thousands of miles. She put sand in a dry birdbath with several small rocks. Then she put the birdbath next to where she had planted milkweed for the butterflies.

But Hope forgot about her butterfly way station in the birdbath. A few weeks later, the forgotten birdbath caught her attention. She noticed the summer rains had filled it, and no butterflies could use it because rainwater covered the rocks.

However, as she peered into the water, she saw hundreds of things moving around. What were those wiggly bugs? When she examined the tiny creatures more closely, she realized they were tadpoles. A mother frog must have found the birdbath and decided to lay her eggs there; hundreds had hatched.

What was Hope going to do with all those tadpoles? Life would be unfair to them if she dumped them on the deck. That would unkind, even cruel.

Perhaps life wasn’t just about being fair or unfair. A friend had recently died, so in honor of her friend, she wanted to release the tadpoles into a nearby lake, much like people release balloons into the sky. That would bring redemption out of sadness, save the tadpoles, and make her feel good that she did something for some tiny critters who could do nothing for themselves.

A week later, Hope took the tadpoles to the lake, said a few kind words about her friend who had passed away, and released them. A feeling of satisfaction swept over her. The tadpoles would grow into frogs—those that didn’t get eaten—and someday have baby tadpoles themselves.

And the circle of life would continue—at least for them.

Then Hope had a new revelation. The fortune cookie said life wasn’t fair, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t make a difference. Hope had a free will. She could accept the fortune cookie’s proclamation, that life wasn’t fair, and live her life in that vein, or she could choose to make the world a better place. And while that seemed like a lofty goal, was it enough? Or was there more to contentment than simply doing good things? She longed for something bigger than her dreams, abilities, and expectations.

One day she was at a basketball game, and one of the players committed a foul. He argued the call with the referee, and the referee tossed the player from the competition. Then the player’s coach came out and contested the same call, and the referee threw the coach from the game.

 “So who referees our lives?” Hope asked. Someone or something had to be in charge. If there were referees to manage basketball games, there had to be a referee or referees to control the world or entire universe.

Even in a basketball game, somebody kept a record of how many shots a player made, how many fouls he committed, and how many assists he had. If officials did that in a meaningless ballgame, somebody must keep score in the bigger game of life. 

Hope accepted that life wasn’t fair, but sooner or later, things that weren’t fair had to be reconciled, just like her checkbook had to be reconciled. She had recently learned about the importance of that when she overdrew her bank account because of a silly mistake. But the bank didn’t think it was silly—they charged her over a hundred dollars for three overdrafts.

There had to be a reckoning in this unfair world. Maybe that’s what Hope longed for, judgment. Then she asked, “Who determines what is fair or unfair?” Hope recalled the basketball game and the ref who threw out the player and the coach. Only an impartial referee could do that.

Could there be a divine being who called the shots, ensured justice was carried out and fixed those things that weren’t fair? What about all the wicked people who did evil things? There had to be a God who weighed the good and the bad, and who someday would assess everything that everybody had ever done.

One day Hope was working as a court reporter in a trial that lasted for several days. The judge called a lunch break, and she went to a nearby restaurant to enjoy the much-needed time off. Following lunch, when she returned, she knew her job would be taxing. The defense had brought in an expert witness from out of state, which meant it would be tedious with multiple direct and cross-examinations. She thought about the jury and their task—to decide if the plaintiffs had proven their case. Sometimes it was hard to know where the truth was, and she didn’t envy their job. All she did as a court reporter was write down what was said and certify that it was accurate.

Soon she returned to the courthouse and took her seat in front of the judge. The defense began their direct examination, which went on for a while. As she sat close to the witness to write his testimony, she noticed that he started having a medical issue, perhaps a seizure; but nobody else, at least initially, noticed.

It became apparent to everyone in the courtroom when he passed out on the witness stand. At first, nobody did anything. How often did witnesses die in the middle of an examination?

Someone called an ambulance, the bailiff escorted the jury out, and the judge called a recess.

*

The legal system is supposed to be about fairness. You get into trouble and somebody sues you. You’ve been a victim and want compensation. You hope the system treats you fairly.

Death has a way of stopping everything. That day everything seemed meaningless. Was it fair that the expert witness had diabetes and died on the witness stand? Of course, the judge was powerless to do anything to save the man. He was just the judge of the trial and not of the man’s life.

The question continued to linger in Hope’s heart. Was there a judge over life and death? Or did everything happen by chance? She reasoned that there must be a supreme being somewhere. Otherwise, people would be mere puppets on a string and only able to respond when someone pulled their string.

Hope shook her head. “No, I don’t believe that,” she said. “I’m not a puppet. I have free will to decide how I will react to the unfairness of life. That’s a good thing.” She thought about that fortune cookie she had opened several months earlier that said, “Life is not fair.” Because she had free will, she had chosen a higher moral path, to do good things because she wanted to.

One day Hope was shopping, and nature called. She needed to make an unexpected visit to the ladies’ room. As she squatted over the toilet, she saw a pamphlet on the door with a beautiful monarch butterfly. Underneath the photo was the question, “Are you born again?”

Was it a coincidence? She remembered her monarch butterfly garden full of milkweed and her failed attempt to provide a sandy way station for them when they emerged from the chrysalis. Tadpoles were born instead, and she took them to the lake so they could grow into frogs.

She pulled the pamphlet off the door to read all of it. Suddenly, she understood. Just like caterpillars and tadpoles have to be “born again” to become butterflies and frogs, people must be born again spiritually to become all that God created them to be.

Why had nobody explained this to her? Or perhaps she had closed her eyes, ears, and heart to this simple truth. Now that God had opened her eyes, she wanted to find a Bible. She wanted to learn more about the creator, the referee of the universe, the one who gave her free will.

In the bathroom stall, after poring over the words in the pamphlet, Hope committed her life to Jesus Christ. How would anyone believe she locked herself in a public, smelly bathroom to pee and then emerged cleansed from all unrighteousness? Probably no one except another born-again Christian—and monarch butterflies and frogs.

Hope reflected, perhaps aborted babies would be born again—in heaven. She hoped that was the case, but for today, God had healed her heart. The fortune cookie had only conveyed a half-truth. Even if life wasn’t fair, as a born-again Christian, she would choose a higher calling than just being a good person—she would live for the glory of God.

Published inShort Stories

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2 Comments

  1. LINDA B LINDA B

    SUCH A TOUCHING SHORT STORYAND I’VE HAD MY SHARE OF NOT FAIR AS I AM ONLY A HALF WOMAN WITH ONE SIDE PARALYYZED, BUT GLORY BE TO GOD!

  2. Lorilyn Roberts Lorilyn Roberts

    Amen! Glory be to God.

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