08 October 2016

A Reflection on Tragedy

It rained for the first time in a while. I awoke and a steady tapping caused me to peek between the blinds to see raindrops on the window. While some would frown at such a sight, I felt my lips curl into a smile. After a few days in which one tragedy followed another, I smiled, because when it rains, the leaves seem greener, avoiding a puddle-filled path becomes a complicated game of hopscotch and the very smell of the air is calming.
I think part of the appeal of rain is that it makes everything clean. The tragedies of the world can be washed and, if not completely healed, then treated. Rain brings new life, asks us to have a different perspective on our routine and reminds us that accepting the stillness and silence of tragedy can, paradoxically, bring us peace.

Without the rain, though, my perspective is different. At some point in my life, I learned that, when faced with troubling circumstances, it was better to bottle up emotions. Even if my mind was racing with doubts or worries, it was better not to let anyone know. The stronger and less affected you feel, the better. And so, I clamped down on the lump in my throat, blinked back tears, focused on the texture of clothing under my thumb, repeated a mantra in my head of "It doesn't matter," did anything to keep tragedy from getting to me.
Time, of course, will show you that this method does not work. Eventually, your body breaks. While your hands grab hold of anything you can reach in order to stabilize yourself, the lump in your throat turns into gasps for air between tears and cries of "Why is this happening? I don't understand."

The weird thing is that on one occasion during which a group was mourning, I heard the sniffs and saw the dabbed eyes of those who were crying and I didn't think, "They are weak." Instead I thought, "They are strong." It takes strength to sit in the silence, the stillness, the "I don't understand" of tragedy.

When tragedy strikes, we have two choices of action. We can choose to dwell on tragedy and see only tragedy: a bad morning turns into a bad day, grief paints the world in gray, one conversation highlights the desolation in your relationship with that person or in your experience with the topic at hand. Or we can choose to see the small good moments that hide behind a curtain of tragedy: the slow smile of a friend, the curiosity and restless energy of a toddler on wobbly legs, the determined glint in the eye of someone who will not settle for prior failure. These latter moments are beautiful, and I was only able to see them because I had sat in the silence.

Tragedy is still here. A few difficult days does not win us a "get out of tragedy for a week" card. But it does, hopefully, make us still, make us remember that our routines and friendships do not anchor us. That is a role for God and He will be in the stillness and the silence with us. He will be with us when it is time to return to our routines and friendships. And I hope that, because of the times we experience tragedy, we can more easily commune with those who suffer when we do not.

Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11