Moving Beyond Tragedy

Human life is filled with both the good and the bad. Despite this, there seems to be some sort of voluntary delusion that is part of human nature, causing us to believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to us. While most of us would never admit it, we can cope with other people’s tragedy without much difficulty, but we believe that if the world is a “fair” place then we will never encounter tragedy. Despite the fact that if we were presented with the story of someone else who believed they were impervious to bad things happening most of us would say that person was delusional, when it comes to our own lives we fail to recognize our own delusion.

This in turn leads us to believe that the measure of “fairness” – and quite often a measure of God’s favor – is that bad things don’t happen to us. There is a story from the Buddhist tradition about a woman whose young son dies. Distraught, she brings the boy to the Buddha and asks him to restore the boy to life. He agrees, but tells her she must first bring him a mustard seed from a home that had never seen death. Encouraged, she heads out – only to learn that every home has tasted death.  She then understands the lesson that life has unsatisfactory moments.

Western thought seems to rely largely on denial to keep us moving forward. Perhaps that is necessary at certain stages of life, but given enough time life sends enough reminders our way to shatter our system of denial. We are then left with the choice to identify as a victim – and consign ourselves to a lifetime of feeling put upon and out of control – or to see ourselves as survivors sharing common ground with the rest of humanity. While the details of our struggles may be different, the truth is that those struggles don’t indicate we are somehow doomed or singled out as defective – they signal instead that we are fully alive members of the human race. Things may happen that we cannot predict or avoid, but we are in control of our response to tragedy and so in control of our lives in the only way that matters.

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