Guest column: A life without tragedy is a life unlived
Between happiness and unhappiness the contrast is obvious. At the recent Aspen writer’s conference (Aspen Words) several authors writing about life experiences, — memoir or fiction — where grief and despair caused by ailing or disabled relations, or mysteries revealed engendered family conflict, shook the foundations of otherwise stable, albeit superficial, lives. The character of the individual was impacted by the unhappiness, self-inflicted or out of a true concern and love, by events or the causal conditions. Periods followed that made daily living difficult. Escape or depression took the individuals to dark places where isolation was common. Admittedly tragic circumstances such as the unexpected death of a child, a crippling accident rendering a sibling capable of only breathing, and child abuse are hurdles too high to readily negotiate. Time is needed to heal, recover and adjust. The authors found solace in writing by sharing their tragedy and the coping mechanisms employed. I felt what they lacked was God, but it was their way to deal. Their success led to further authorship of similar pieces and a resource for further success. These were truly gifted, creative writers, whose words and sentences made their memories available to the reader in beautiful and relational ways that were touching. Empathy toward the authors was real.
The unhappiness that arose in the stories told were as if the heart stopped, flatlined, and the vibrancy of a person is reflected in a slouch compared to an upright posture. Shoulders slumped as eye contact was more focused on the ground than the face of a living being. As wrapping oneself in Saran wrap, the content was preserved, outsiders could see, and in time, when opened, it was hoped it would be more a leftover for further consumption and not listless, lifeless and useless.
Sequestering with a community wearing common wristbands, the letters embossed in the flexible plastic strip can only, in my view, maintain the depression. Light needs to beam upon the fruit and give it new life, improved color and make it available to others. The individual cannot remain a recluse, but must clad ones feet with thick leather bottoms and cross the broken glass-strewn span between camp-despondency to the pluralism of a world full of life, cultural differences and others who have overcome their melancholy. Change the wristband from one of desperation to one of hope.
Happiness is the removal of the bubble wrap and exposing the gift of life. It is not without peril. A life without tragedy is a life unlived. It is overcoming the pain that gives life. As a woman in labor, the delivery is the worst period, a time of unfathomable anguish, but the result, the view of a new creation suppresses even the recollection of the level of hurt. It is so with tragic events. Loved ones lost. Injuries debilitating. Hopes and dreams at the moment dashed. As with rejection. Moving forward is essential. Escaping the darkness, seeing the light, accepting the new order of things, embracing life itself, thankful to remain a part of it, takes commitment and courage. It can entail rehabilitation as well.
Behind the veil of the most successful business person, model, athlete, politician, teacher, preacher, mother, father, poet or writer is a story that can be told. There are mysteries to life that even the individual themselves cannot reveal, as they remain unknown. Many who write know the question, but do any have the answer? What is the meaning of life? I can tell you this: it is not meaningless. It is not without purpose.
Tom Balderston is the author of “The Damascus Quran,” “The Wonder of Terra,” “Wake Up! Wake Up! The Testimony of a Layman,” and “The Proven God.” He lives in Snowmass.