Tragedy Doesn't Have To Make Us Better People

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Every day we see inspirational stories of people overcoming the odds. Our Facebook newsfeed is filled with images of extraordinary courage, our nightly news often features tales of sacrificial love, and self-help books written by those who have overcome difficult situations are best sellers.

We have an obsession with overcomers in our culture. We see them as modern-day Saints... people who have some type of special knowledge which can help us figure out how to be better humans.

In the immediate aftermath of Beatrix's death, there definitely was a kind of "otherworldly" aspect to my thought process. I noticed everything on a grander scale. Time became tangible. Nature became more than just my surroundings -- It was something I was immersed in. I noticed the intricacies of every bee which buzzed around my garden.

Meaning was everywhere.

I now recognize that what I thought was the "new normal" was most likely a prolonged sense of shock. I was so shaken, that the real world wasn't in focus. I became a new creature, unable to function the way I had functioned before -- not because I had some great wisdom, but because I couldn't accept the reality in which I was now living. 

Over time I adapted to living in this reality, just as I had adapted to every other grief in life. Things became normal again. 

I know this is probably off-putting to some, but it's also probably the truth to many more. 

The reason I'm sharing this story of my mundacity is because magnified expectations of wisdom after trauma, big and small, are a heavy load to bear. We've been conditioned to believe that trauma will bring out some sort of all-knowing philosophical mindset in us, and we'll suddenly have a deeper understanding of life's intricacies. 

When something really terrible happens, and we don't necessarily learn the secrets of the universe..... and we continue to be the same self we were before our experience, we're left feeling kind of useless:

All the other people who've had terrible experiences have used those experiences as a force for good. All we're doing is living an average life.


What was our travail for, if not to bring about some type of cosmic  knowledge?


Are we allowed to be angry about what we experienced?


Why didn't our experience immediately change us into a different, better, person?

I think we forget that we aren't superwoman. Maybe our "purpose" isn't to turn all of our grievances into enlightenment lessons, for ourselves or others.

Before you stop reading, I want to be clear: this is a good thing. While tragedy can be a catalyst for introspection, it doesn't make you who you are. 

You are the person you were before the tragedy. You may not feel like it, but you are. 

I'm still the same girl whose desk is tremendously disorganized and who will never, ever pay her bills on time. Losing my daughter added depth to my character. But it didn't suddenly fix my outlook and make me wise. 

You may be told that no one "moves on" from whatever type of trauma you have experienced. While it's true that some things permanently mark you, you can move on. Your trauma doesn't have to be the focus of your daily actions for the rest of your life. 

We can choose to use our experiences as a catalyst for change, but if we don't want to... we're under no obligation. And this is a great and beautiful thing.

In the years since I've lost my Beatrix, I've learned that I don't have to make overcoming tragedy the centerpiece of my life. I am not an after school special. I am not a guru. I do not live in a shroud of otherworldly knowledge. I am more than my grief. So are you.

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