Life is full of tragedy. It’s also full of happiness and light, and for that we can take comfort, but there’s simply no denying or escaping life’s sorrow.
In fact, I believe that to endure it is part of what makes us human. Our tragedies, both individual and shared, lead to periods of reflection and evaluation. They are the impetus for change and growth, adding a new layer to our unique stories and redirecting the trajectories of our lives. No matter the degree, grief and anguish do not leave us unscathed. Though the wounds may heal, tragedy cuts deep. It transforms us and often rightfully compels us to redefine ourselves.
It’s easy, of course, to so blithely describe tragedy given the benefit of time and distance. In the moment, tragedy leaves us raw and aching. It’s awful and, in many cases, unavoidable. Melancholy, restlessness, misery, depression, illness, separation, violence, loss; tragedy presents itself in various ways. It is simultaneously relatable and singular. It is abundant.
Perhaps I feel this way because I’ve matured into a more cognizant member of society. Perhaps it’s because I’m of a certain age and my peers and I now have real adult responsibilities and problems, like divorce or aging parents. Perhaps it’s simply more prevalent now than ever before, though I sincerely doubt that. It’s clear to me, regardless of why, that tragedy is everywhere and affects everyone to some extent at some point.
As a decent human being with self-diagnosed heightened levels of empathy–it should come as no surprise to hear that I’m a deeply emotional being–my chest hurts when someone I care about is suffering. I am keenly aware of how it feels to have a heavy heart and am grateful to whomever first coined the term as it is incredibly apt in many circumstances. I try my best to listen and help, or, at the very least, let that person know I’m there for support. But depending on the situation, saying “I’m here for you” just doesn’t seem like enough. Finding the proper words, however, is tough.
Beyond offering to “be there” for someone, my first instinct is usually to say that I’m “thinking and praying” for them as well. They’re words I grew up saying and somehow continue to feel right because they suggest that I’m spending a good deal of mental and emotional energy trying to conjure positive and supportive vibes. The problem, though, is that I’m no longer religious and don’t technically “pray” either.
While many of the people to whom I say this may not know this fact about me, those who do may wonder about my choice of words. Over time, I’ve become hesitant to use them, often leaving out “prayer” altogether at the risk of sounding irreverent or disingenuous, especially to those who are also nonreligious. Neither is the case; I am very sincerely issuing some sort of prayer to the universe about that person and his or her situation. It’s just that my version of a prayer is not directed to any single god or any god at all, necessarily.
My history with religion is not all that unique or interesting. Like many of my contemporaries, I grew up Catholic but lost my connection to it for a variety of reasons. I’ve dabbled with other forms of Christianity, mostly to be supportive of family members who are religious, and have tremendously enjoyed the sense of community I feel in each church I’ve attended. I don’t have anything against organized religion (unless it’s a church that spreads harmful rhetoric, in which case I’m very much against it) or people who take part in one; I respect the people for whom it works.
I understand that there are many reasons one might be drawn to a particular religion. I also appreciate that, for many, religion provides a great moral guidepost. It’s possible my own morality was partially derived from the religion in my upbringing (though I attribute it to my parents, family, and community). I even admit that the current pope seems like a pretty relaxed and open-minded guy (finally!). I’m thrilled that many religious sects are becoming more accepting of all walks of life, all religious affiliations, and all identities, sexual and otherwise. In my opinion, the ones that don’t are doing a disservice to religion in general. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t want to delve any more into religion as a concept. I’m not here to talk about its presence, or the lack thereof, in my life.
I’m simply here to convey that I’m not being disrespectful or facetious when I tell someone who is going through a hard time that they’re “in my prayers.” I don’t think my non-believing (or not-sure-about-believing) should affect the weight of my words; to me, religious is not synonymous with goodness. A good person is a good person and their good intentions should be taken at face value. This is why I take no offense to someone who relays these words to me, either.
So please, if I tell you that I’m thinking of and praying for you, know that I am neither pushing religion down your throat nor belittling your belief system; I’m just thinking of you deeply.
I may not be sending my prayers to any specific or commonly accepted deity, but I do believe in the gods of healing, kindness, grace, and mercy. It is to those whom I am sending my thoughts. To you, I send compassion. I hope you are able to find solace in my words and in knowing that you are not alone in your despair.
To anyone experiencing some kind of tragedy as you are reading this, know that I see you, I feel you, and I recognize your pain. My sincerest thoughts and prayers are with you.
A Reminder That Some Tragedies Are Avoidable
Though not my original intent, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to end today’s post without acknowledging the fact that many of the tragedies we see today are within our means to avoid. For instance–a big instance–the implementation of simple, common-sense laws may actually help decrease the frequency of gun violence. It’s after such violence that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is truly insufficient, so much so that the words themselves have become trite when spoken by a politician who has the real power to effect change and instead offers insincere regards.
Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries. Twenty. five. Our gun-obsessed culture combined with the oversize presence of gun lobby money flooding our political system has created a real problem with real consequences. We, as Americans, laud our country as the land of greatness and opportunity, a real powerhouse on the global stage. Yet we do not even come close to comparing to the rest of the world in terms of gun safety. Instead, we rank among the top in terms of gun violence. With such a strong-arm reliance on guns in our twisted-priority culture, are we really the land of the free? I’d argue that until we can send our kids to school without the fear that they won’t return, the answer is no.
While many of you, my dear readers, are of like mind and have no need for the reminder, I do think it prudent to add that this is not about taking away guns. Instead, it’s about making it really hard to acquire them and about keeping them out of the hands of people with a history of violence or who are unfit to handle them safely or responsibly. At the end of the day, a gun is a weapon designed to kill. We mustn’t forget that.
Readers, it’s already way past “too late.” As a result, people are dying–our kids are dying–because of our inability to do our jobs, as adults, to protect them. Don’t let those people die for nothing, readers. Take action now. You better believe that when it’s in my power to offer more than “thoughts and prayers,” I do.