Finding grace in tragedies
The beauty of going through a tragedy & emerging as a better person
Aditi Raman Shridhar
Who on this planet has not faced a tragedy? There are various levels of tragedies and of different forms and some are not even considered a tragedy if they seem trivial to others. But any situation that causes a stinging pain in your being or a hollowness inside you is a tragedy. It doesn’t matter whether this hollowness comes from losing a loved one or losing health or money. However, at the end of the day what truly matters is how you bounced back from it and charted the further course of your life.
No person on this planet has had it easy. Someone with a loving family has probably felt short in money, someone rich has perhaps had no love, someone with a loving family and immense wealth has probably lost in health. Whatever your life is right now or has been in the past, this moment is yours to take hold of and change.
Many people have a very biased and skewed understanding of tragedies. My pain is greater than yours or Your pain isn’t relatable to me as I have had a smooth life are both equally superficial emotions in the understanding of pain and tragedies. This is a big reason why many people are unable to express their emotions fully because they don’t feel understood by others. Some people take their tragedies to a higher level by victimising themselves and grieving well past the incident in itself has finished. Others forget to empathise with those in pain because of what they believe is truly worth grieving for or not. For example, many consider poor people to be more miserable than the rich (simply because they have more money). Physically disabled people might receive more empathy than those suffering from mental disorders, because physical pain is visible. A girl having cancer might receive more empathy and love than her friend whose parents are divorced. We forget that tragedies and pain don’t come in a prescribed format. They are different for different people, but the lesson they leave behind is that we are stronger than them, and that we can truly feel happiness, joy, peace and purity within us in spite of how terrifying the incidents might have been.
In the past few months, I have had the privilege of staying closely with my family for a long time. During these months, a lot of obvious good and obvious bad things happened. There were get-togethers, nice food, travel, laughter, music, creative pursuits at work, and also loss of a loved one, cremation, grieving, sleepless nights, hospital visits, loads of anxiety, blame on destiny, and finally peace. It made me wonder if good and bad situations are simply two sides of the coin of life. Do they come one after the other just to keep you grounded or to spook you out? Or is there something deeper to understand from it?
Does happiness and misery come one after the other? Or are they a result of pre-stated destinies? Or is happiness really eternal and we just don’t understand this?
For example, a person who is dying is really suffering. You can see them in pain. So, won’t they want to be free from it and wish for a peaceful death and be free of their ailing body? But the love of the family they are leaving behind will be painful. The family praying for the departing soul wishes intensely for the loved one to recover but seeing the deteriorating condition, they pray for the soul to be free of their suffering and move on to a blissful onward journey. So, isn’t letting go of their loved one also peaceful for them since true love is all about thinking of the good of the other person. However, we all get trapped between what we see with naked eyes and what we feel within. The physical outside and the feelings inside don’t always match. On the inside, you feel peace and happiness since your loved one is free of their suffering but the absence of the loved one perceivable with physical eyes is unbearable.
REALITY IS WITHIN
The essence of life is always within you. If you feel peaceful inside, then the outside world cannot horrify you. But if there is turmoil inside, simple scenes of life can become terrifying.
I would like to tell you a story that moved me the most and has given me comfort in the most difficult times in my own life. I had heard this story from a village woman in India when I was on a trip with my college friends back in 2008. We were a group of girls from college backpacking to a secluded trekking place in India, called Kyari. There was a village woman, very old, rickety and her spine stooped considerably because of her age. Her face was wrinkled, but her eyes were sharp and her laugh loud and hearty. She used to take care of the huts in which visitors rested. One night, we girls sat around a bonfire and the village woman joined us. She recounted a tale in which she once encountered a tiger in her childhood. She was 11 years old when she was going to her school and had to walk through the jungle (forest). In India, many people still live in or at the fringe of jungles and cross them to go to work or school. She said she was walking alone through the dense forest one morning when suddenly she saw a tiger hiding behind some bushes at a distance. The tiger roared and was slowly moving towards her. Its skin glowed under the sun and its eyes were full of hunger. She froze for a while, not knowing what to do, and then she quickly pulled out a long wooden scale from her bag and pranced up the big tree right next to her. She was quick and she went up and sat in the highest branches of the tree. The tiger, also swift in climbing trees, walked towards her tree and started crawling up. There was a huge honeycomb, she said, attached to the highest branches of the tree and just as she saw the tiger had come close to her, she hit the honeycomb hard with the scale and it fell on the tiger, followed by a swarm of bees stinging the hungry animal.
He dropped with a thud on the ground with the bees piercing his skin and some attacking his eyes and he roared and ran away. She climbed down the tree and started running towards her home. It was barely a minute, when the tiger returned from behind and pounced on her. Its paws dug deep into her shoulder and he caught hold of her arm. She fell but pulled herself up to run with all her might. But the tiger tore off her lower arm, below the elbow. She still ran with all her might, shrieking with pain. She hit a giant stone at him and kept running and soon the tiger lost track of her. And she reached home. The villagers were horrified to see her condition and the men, angry and shocked, took their harpoons and ran into the jungle to hunt down the animal.
The village woman described the pain and horror that she lived with after the incident. Her parents didn’t have the money to get her a prosthetic arm and she accepted her fate of managing her life in this condition. In her village, there was a also a deep taboo with disabled girls remaining single for life, as no man would be interested in marrying them. Around the bonfire that day, this woman narrated how this incident “was the best thing that ever happened to her in her life”. It aroused in her tremendous strength, acceptance, pure love and joy that she never knew was possible to experience in spite of facing tremendous loss, it gave her the courage to meet any fate in future eye to eye and overpower it with her strength and sharp wit, and it gave others in her village inspiration to lead better lives. True happiness lies within and to find it inside is really the biggest purpose of life of any human being.
If you have been through a tragedy or are going through one, please know that you are not alone in the world facing turbulent times. There are many elsewhere. And if you need blessings and help from others, then ask for it. People are humane and humanity is really alive. You will be amazed how many people volunteer to pray for your wellbeing and those prayers will get you through. Also, know that there is always something good hidden in everything. You just have to find it.
Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian writer and wellness and health instructor.