Tragedy is common

Life is tragic. Or, as the Buddhists would say, life is suffering. It seems like everyone I know has experienced tragedy, like job loss, divorce, death of a parent, sibling or even child, abuse, estrangement, mental illness, cancer, or other health crisis. Life is tragic. And you only make things worse by fighting ultimate truth.

When I was young I didn’t know that. I thought life was supposed to be pretty good all the time and I got hurt and frustrated or depressed when it wasn’t. I carried on. I worried and fretted and complained.  And I fought many losing battles.

There was a time when I also thought it was my responsibility to make everything work out for the best. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to make things “right.” I thought I had more control over life than I actually had.

I was like a person in a rowboat frantically rowing to get to a “good place” where I could finally be happy and relax. I rowed against strong currents, through shark infested waters, hit icebergs, and was beached on inhospitable islands. I’ve been lucky that even though there were some questionable moments, my boat never sank. Nowadays I tend to put down my oars and raise my sail more often and just see where the winds are going to take me. I know there will be danger and fear and loss and that, eventually, my journey will end.

Realizing that suffering comes into everyone’s life and that we all face the same tragic end has helped me become more compassionate towards myself and others. I endeavor to fret less and to put that energy into something more positive or, at least, more useful. And when tragedy does strike, I don’t ask “Why me?” I don’t take it personally. I take some comfort in being part of the human condition we call life. At least that is what I try to do.

How do you handle tragedy? How has that changed as you have matured?

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About Annamelle

I split my time between homeschooling and writing a novel. I'm interested in and inspired by fairy tales, Jung, Buddhism, myths, architecture, nature, etiquette, hidden histories, dreams, Emerson, old books, Gaiman, and legends. "Make the most of yourself....for that is all there is of you." — Emerson

Posted on June 22, 2011, in advice, buddhism, letting go. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. ” Nowadays I tend to put down my oars and raise my sail more often and just see where the winds are going to take me” — yes, I like that.

    My Buddhist therapist told me about a Buddhist monk who would say “of course” whenever a bad thing happens. Not, “of course” in a bitter, frustrated, sarcastic way, but as a way of saying to himself, “this is a normal part of life, I don’t need to fight against it or expend a lot of energy acting shocked or indignant.”

    The trick is to avoid being complacent, and to allow natural feelings of loss or even anger to occur without adding the secondary thoughts of “how unfair! why me!”

    Some of that has gotten easier for me, but the other trick for me is to avoid slipping over into “life is pointless” — pointless in the most negative “why bother” sense. There is no safe shore, but I hope there is a way of sailing that can be intentional and open at the same time.

    • “this is a normal part of life, I don’t need to fight against it or expend a lot of energy acting shocked or indignant.”

      That is what I was learning from my Buddhist readings too. I get over things a lot quicker these days. Mostly because I choose not to drag out the drama.

      I am not in too much danger of slipping into the Life is Pointless. I’m naturally too far to the other side, where everything is important. Am I learning, as I grow over, that everything are not as important as I used to think it was. Or maybe that different things are important than I thought they were.

  2. And at the same time, it isn’t contagious. I tire of people who shy away from something tragic, afraid that somehow they might “catch” bad luck. It’s just what it is. It’s part of the journey. I don’t believe anyone has it “better” or “worse,” they just have their own. Whatever that is.

    Great post.

    • That is how I see it too Tillingmama. Everybody has their own journey.

      I’ve been blessed that many people supported me through my cancer. But I think that is partly because everyone has someone in their life affected by cancer and so they understand it more.

  3. In many ways, one of the worst days of my life was one of the best. Losing my twin at 13, an age where you are already going through a ton of changes, gave me a perspective that changed me forever. Little things, of course, had relatively little effect, but the biggest mental shift was when I realized I should be grateful to have had a best friend (even before birth) for 13 years instead of focusing on all the things I didn’t get to share with her. The “glass is half full” approach. You learn to cherish what is real and not focus on the ‘what could have beens’. It also makes it that much more important to add to those around you, so you leave a positive imprint that will carry on way past your own demise.

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