The Absurdity of Tragedy

Mondays rarely begin well, but this one was worse than others. I got a call right after getting up, informing me a friend’s husband died the night before in an accident.

Somehow, when tragedy strikes, it seems to find the most searing and unjust way of manifesting. He was only 30. My friend is 31. They had been married just over a year.

I remember having drinks with her four years ago and asking, “How can someone as smart and pretty as you not have a boyfriend?”

“I just haven’t found the right guy yet,” she answered.

She did found him about a year later. She fell in love. They were married, and she was so very happy. She positively glowed.

Then he was gone, just like that. She waited 30 years for the right man, and she got to have him for all of 14 months.

 I don’t get it. I don’t understand why life is so unfair this way.

I think about all the stupid things I’ve done in my life and still made it to 43 with my health intact. Like the time I wasn’t paying attention and almost drove my van under an oncoming semi’s trailer. Somehow the back wheels didn’t crush me like a squirrel darting out into the street at the wrong moment.

Or last summer when I fell on the rocks in Maine, because I wasn’t wearing shoes. Instead of dashing my brains out on the beach, I just cut my foot and messed up my shoulder.

Or even yesterday, when the rear tire of my bike caught in a crack, threatening to spill me out into the street in front of the car that was right behind me. But, in less time than it takes to describe, I stomped my right foot into the ground, maintaining the bike’s balance and freeing the tire from the rut.

I am divorced, unemployed, and estranged from my daughter, but I keep surviving these stupid, dangerous accidents. Meanwhile, a happy, deserving couple is sundered before they really even get to begin their life together. The fairytale gets ruined while my seemingly directionless life meanders on.

I’ve been trying my entire adult life to reconcile this basic absurdity. The only truth I’ve ever discovered is there is no way to understand these things. Any answer given by religion or philosophy is presumption. In times of tragedy, we all wish to give consoling advice, blinding ourselves to the fact that there is no explanation that offers any comfort, displays any justice, or makes any sense.

But as absurd and unjust as any tragedy is, there are two important facts we can’t ignore. First, the rest of us are still alive — whether we deserve it more or less than the dead is immaterial. We survive. Second, all of life is a struggle against death. This is a battle we cannot ultimately win. Yet we fight every moment for yet another moment to fight.

So if we survive and we struggle against death, we have to make that battle mean something while we can.  We have to appreciate the things and the people in our lives we enjoy. The breeze through the window on my arm, the taste of the coffee I had this morning, and the conversation with friends I had all remind me that, even if my life is directionless at the moment, it still has meaning. It still is worth living.

We need to remember that every day. Because one day, we might not survive one of those stupid accidents. The love we searched all our lives for might only last 14 months. Life, in all its unjust absurdity, can change forever or end with no warning.

Until then, we must live.


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