Withstanding Tragedy

“Tragedy and suffering will come to us. We cannot insulate ourselves from them. We cannot avoid them. They come in their own season and in their own time. When they come, they may overwhelm us and immobilize us. For a time, we are living inside a scream where there seems to be no exit, only echoes. The small cares that seemed so important yesterday seem like nothing, and our daily concerns become petty and irrelevant. When we finally reclaim ourselves, as we ultimately do, we are changed.”

     As I pondered the above, the difference between knowledge and knowing came to mind. The former is a matter of the mind; the latter is a matter of the heart. Knowledge is about the intellect, while knowing is an intimate experience, a felt sensitivity. Knowledge can be impersonal, knowing is anything but.

     We all possess the knowledge that “tragedy and suffering will come to us.” It is common knowledge that life will bring unwanted and painful experiences to everyone at some time(s). But when those occurrences take place, when for instance we get the bad news of a terminal diagnosis, or feel the heartbreak that comes with failure and loss, then we know in a full-bodied way, one that can break our world into pieces.

     As author Kent Nerburn states, there is no way to insulate ourselves from, or avoid tragedy; we will always feel the pain of painful experiences. But there may be a way to keep from losing ourselves in life’s harshness. While addressing the importance of confronting fear, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once offered this piece of counterintuitive wisdom: if a dog is chasing you, turn and whistle for it! If instead of trying to outrun what frightens us we would take a few quiet moments each day to rest in the bedrock of our soul (the sacred center where we know we are more than what happens to us), we will not be immune from the pain of tragedy, but we may be better prepared to withstand its power to “overwhelm us and immobilize us.”

     You’ve no doubt heard the saying that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But  what is also true is that life’s trials can leave us angry, resentful, and bitter. If, however, we are open to growth and are willing to work through our pain, misfortune can result in our becoming stronger, wiser, and more compassionate – changed in ways that make us better human beings.


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