I was talking with a friend this morning when something was said that hit a nerve I hadn’t realized could be hurt anymore, triggering a veritable tidal wave of the most unpleasant and wretched emotions, and when I shared a few of the events connected with that particular nerve and those feelings, the only word that my friend could find to describe them was tragic.
What a heartbreaking word.
It’s no secret that I’ve had more than my fair share of trauma and difficulty. I’ve chronicled bits of it here. But a word I never had thought to associate with any portion of my life, past or present, was tragic. Having it applied to my life was nothing if not penetrating and acrid.
Another tidal wave of more wholly repugnant emotions, the names for which do not even begin to express the ferocity behind them, hit me squarely in the face.
First, otherwise forgotten and ignored vile memories flooded my consciousness. Then the sudden cognizance that they were indeed tragic affairs to have endured washed over me leaving me feeling as though I were drowning. It felt as though my heart had been physically ripped from my chest. If you’ve ever experienced the kind of heartache that quite literally hurts your heart and has you doubled over in sorrowful pain, that is a titch like what I was feeling.
Until suddenly the waves of emotion passed and the agony and anguish subsided.
It isn’t that the pain isn’t there or that the reality of my past has disappeared. They’re still there, let me assure you. I can go back to my storied explanation and my friend’s words to find where the paper tigers are lurking. But the reality is that they are just that: lurking. Not attacking. Not devouring. Not dominating. They’re just paper tigers prancing about as echoes and ghosts of my past experiences. They may seem fierce and terrible, but there is no substance to them, at least not anymore.
How is it possible to stop a veritable deluge of grief and despair?
I’ve denied them the power to hold me prisoner.
I refuse to give them any sway over me again, neither in my present nor in my future. I’ve lived that time already and although that past will always be there with those damned tigers frolicking in the shadows of my memories, it does not serve me to dwell on it or to relive it. Acknowledging my past as tragic in no way gives it the power to outstrip the promise and purpose in my future.
This is the crux of any trauma or tragedy:
To find beauty in pain.
There is nothing that I can do that will change what has come before, although what has come before has changed me in profound ways. My experiences have done everything to mold my character and my will. They have instilled in me the grit and determination to overcome and to persevere against all odds. And they have pulled from within me the hope and faith I need to move forward into an uncertain future.
The beauty in the tragedy of my life’s story thus far is that despite everything that has happened to me, despite every physical and emotional trauma, despite every tragic event, despite everything that has gone wrong and every wrong done to me, and despite overwhelming odds against survival again and again, I continue to rise.
I rise up.
When the world around me burns to the ground and crumbles, I rise again.
It doesn’t matter how much tragedy or trauma, how much pain, or how much desolation I find in my life because I will rise.
In rising I find myself above all the devastation life can throw at me, sailing on fair winds in the glow of the sun like a phoenix born again from the ashes.
And I will always rise from the rubble because I refuse to live in the pain.
Originally published 5 November 2017