In Defense of Tragedy








When I cry, I remember why forever. When I laugh, I forget about it tomorrow. –Anonymous


I’m trying my hand at a few definitions of sad things that we might experience:


Tragedy—def: the destruction of human lives or hearts on a massive scale. A loss of profound consequences.

Tear-jerker—def: you know after witnessing this kind of movie or song that you’ll hold your special someone tighter (or that you’ll wish like crazy that you’d found that someone by now).

Downer-def: something that leaves you feeling lower than you started.


I don’t believe the above three concepts are synonymous. I grew up understanding tragic stories as beautiful. They felt deeper and more powerful to me. I’d always viewed weeping as nothing shameful.

I have many friends who hold tragedy and sorrow at arm’s length. Sad stories, films, books, and ideas are more bitter to swallow, no doubt. They even feel like poison sometimes.

But the Greeks were onto something, when they claimed that drama created catharsis, and that these strong emotions were purging and healthful for the soul.

I encountered a Kahlil Gibran quote that perfectly sums up how I feel about tragic stories and my own personal dark valleys of life:


The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. –Khalil Gibran


When it comes to entertainment, telling stories, or just experiencing life, I don’t always reach for the sob stories.

But I think it’s important for all of us that we don’t shun tragedy entirely. Sorrow and loss are real things, and pushing them away doesn’t make life better. I dare say it can make life shallower.

Gibran said that sorrow carves deep hollows within us, and from those, we are able to feel a greater capacity of joy. This is because we’ve seen what it is like to weep. It makes us more ready to dance when our season of life calls for it.

We’re in the thick of Christmas season when the lights and the fragrant greenery and the carols push us toward contented thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with feeling contented! But for anyone in the midst of grief or hardship, I like to remember that this pain is expanding our capacity for joy. I really, truly, believe that it is.

What’s your attitude toward tragedy?


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