If you didn’t know this about me, I sort of live for tragedy.
I love a good sad story. All those sad war movies, the star-crossed lovers who can’t be together stories, or basically any sad story, obsess me. Sort of like when twelve year old me loved The Fault In Our Stars and the way it made me cry for what it felt like forever.
During english class we studied why people love tragedy and the importance of its existence. Because believe it or not, I’m not the only one who loves poignant stories that stab your heart mercilessly because the main character, our hero, just can’t seem to get it right. It’s sort of the same reason why Shakespeare’s tragedies are more intriguing than his comedies (don’t get me wrong though, I live for William’s sexual innuendos, that in his own time, were considered comedy gold).
I think the main reason people get so hung up on tragedies is because there is a before and after element that leaves us inspired. Tragedy offers us the option to recontruct and rethink our choices, or to let it destroy us.
After something difficult happens, there’s no going back.
People love tragedies because it gives us perspective on our own lives. I don’t just like it because I’m a sociopath who enjoys being in pain, I like it because I am constantly captivated by the many things that humans endure.
Honestly, not enough people give themselves enough credit for getting through things. Just think about it for a second. Think about all the harsh things that have happened to you, but I mean really painful things.
Some times when I look back at things that I’ve gone through, my first thought is “damn, I can’t believe I got through that.”
And I mean it. There are really screwed up things that happen to all of us that we somehow managed to survive. And despite all of those things, we keep pushing. We keep running. Despite all of that screwed-up-ness, the constant desire of wanting to feel better, keeps us going.
This sounds so small and cliché, but this small thought has kept so many people alive.
Not too long ago, I read the memoir of Elie Wiesel, Night, in which he recounts his experiences on the concentration camps as a young boy. Were he got separated from his family forever, saw his dad die in front of him as he uttered his last words: “Elie.” Yes, his father’s last words were his name. Elie’s father was pleading for his son’s help in an attack of colera, a thing that Elie couldn’t offer to him is unless he wanted to risk getting killed in the most inhumane way.
Elie was forcednto watch his father die while he said his name over and over.
He was forced to watch the hanging of three people. He was beaten constantly in the camps, and was forced to drink water out of the same bowl he pissed in (a bowl he had absolutely nothing to clean with).
After Elie got out of the camp, there’s this last scene in the memoir were he looks at himself in the mirror. After so many years of pain and tragedy, the Nazis had squeezed every single bit of happiness out of him. All his faith he used to have in God, was as jaded as a friendship where you thought someone would always have your back, but they let you fall.
Elie Wiesel took this emptiness and dedicated his whole life to honor the rest of his Jewish brothers and sisters that died in the holocaust. After all that pain and endurance, he decided to dedicated his life to doing good.
I guess that’s the thing that captivates me the most about tragedies: the endurance of the experience.
Therefore, when I was reading his memoir, I came up with a response (I usually do this with every story where I imagine the things I would say to a certain characters). I sometimes imagine myself going into the story and saying things, and at the moment where Elie looks at his hopeless skeleton on the mirror I felt this:
It is quite rare looking at yourself in the mirror after something so terrifying and intoxicating has happened. Something that has forced you to fight what feels like a losing battle every single day. The scars, the memories, the tears, the feeling of wanting to go back –but you can’t. Almost like a flower who has been ripped off from it’s roots, completely ruining your beauty, your hopes, your dreams. No, you can’t go back because all you carry around now is an empty body. An unrecognizable reflection, a stranger with an empty gaze staring right back at you. And so they’ve done it, the finally did it, they took everything you loved and everything that you stood for and emptied you out; they left you with only the terrifying echoes of who you used to be. So you look at that unknown reflection in the mirror, you stand so close, you can almost touch the stranger…and all of a sudden you feel a small beating. Your heart. It’s still alive. It is still there, doing what hearts do best: keeping you alive. It whispers to you kindly and gently, “they didn’t destroy us, they didn’t win.” Your body is unrecognizable, your brain doesn’t quite know what its job is anymore, but your heart and your soul have not been corrupted. The fill your empty body with a yearning of the love you once knew, and slowly the wounds seem to hurt a little bit less. Oh the harshness that they treated you with, the words they said to you, the hatred you endured that came from sour hearts, did not once touch your beautiful soul. Your soul made of starlight that’s bright and blinding to the eyes. No, you can’t go back because now that they’ve emptied you, you have a new purpose. You can be filled again.
Photography by Ryan McGilchrist: “Broken Reflection”
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