An event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe
– Oxford Dictionaries
On any given day, we are exposed to a steady stream of tragedies. Just turn on the news or read the headlines. It’s the job of the media to depict a slew of global misfortunes. The information age has ruined my faith in personal safety and security. To quote Helen Keller, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
Some days, I find it difficult to cope with the media’s jarring reports detailing injury, illness and death. Most recently, the mass killings in Paris have me in a contemplative mood. The reality is, there comes a time in everyone’s life when tragedy strikes.
At the age of twelve, I experienced a brush with what I would deem a near tragedy. My father got the call as my sister and I set the table for dinner. My mother had been found unconscious inside her parked vehicle. She had suffered a massive brain aneurysm.
Less than a week after her life saving surgery, my mother suffered a stroke. The doctors and nurses told my father her chances were slim. Against all odds, she pulled through, but never fully recovered.
It wasn’t until my early twenties, during an admission to the psychiatric ward, that I witnessed true tragedy. I awoke late one night to a commotion and slipped out of bed to investigate. A fellow patient had hung himself. I watched as the young man’s lifeless body was wheeled past me and down the hall. He and I had chatted casually just hours before he took his own life.
In my mid-twenties I lived a tragic love story. Envision something similar to what you’d see on the silver screen, only without the Hollywood humdrum. I blogged about my relationship with her, the young woman who went missing. As far as I know, she was never found. What I didn’t disclose were the details of numerous hardships that marked her troubled life. When she disappeared, I mourned her.
I’m twenty-nine now, and having grappled with mental instability for over a decade, I’d venture that mental illness is a tragedy. We are more than just statistics in the DSM. I mean, how many lives have been shattered and how many promising futures derailed due to afflictions of the mind? Such imponderables make me reflect on my own struggles with mental illness and substance abuse. What a tragic figure I was, living on borrowed time and persistently at the mercy of a drug or drink. I came so close to falling beyond reach. Hell, it’s a miracle I survived.
Tragedy is a part of life. But is there a silver lining? According to D.H. Lawrence, “Tragedy is like strong acid – it dissolves away all but the very gold of truth.” Recently, I find myself searching for this gold of truth.
As human beings, we all face trials and tribulations. But I believe that in times of need we can rely on our fellow man. It may be a sad fact, but tragedy unites people, regardless of race, religion, culture and nationality. I’ve seen it. We all have. Following the November 13th attacks in Paris, monuments around the world lit up in blue, white and red. The colours of France, yes, but dare to look beyond the obvious. The way I see it, on that November night, monuments around the world lit up in the colours of humanity.
I end with a proposal, and a little history lesson. The ancient Greek playwrights, in all their wisdom, categorized life as either a Comedy or a Tragedy. So, laugh or cry. But let’s do so together.
About Andrew Woods
Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago). I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications. Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.