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Legitimate, Honest-to-God Tragedy

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Story by Laurie Grathen

Regular visitors to my blog know I’m a voracious reader. Many also know I’m a history buff. My interest in history intensified over the last 15 years as I’ve learned to connect what’s happened in the past to current events.

It puts so much in context and explains the seemingly unexplainable.

I’m a few days from finishing an epic historical novel series by Ken Follett called “The Century Trilogy.” It’s a fictionalized account following 5 families, living all around the world, whose lives are intertwined by world events and politics. It spans the years from just before the start of World War I to 2008, when the first black American president was elected.

The last few weeks, as I observe the folks around me negotiate the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, I’ve also been thinking about the how the lives of people who go through man-made and natural disaster are similar and different. In my own life, in additional to Ian, I went through and recovered from a very serious tornado in 2003, and my husband and I served in the US Air Force, he for 22 years. Now, the country I grew up in is quickly and dramatically changing in ways that are nearly incomprehensible to me.

One of the most profound scenes in Winter of the World (Book 2 of the Trilogy mentioned above) tells of a former American soldier arriving at the San Francisco home of a young woman he met briefly during WWII in London while the city was being bombed by the Germans night after night. The night they met no one was sure if they’d be alive the day. As many supposedly did, they had a hurried, rather impersonal, sexual encounter. Upon her return to San Francisco she broke off her engagement to her fiancé. Her mother was NOT. HAPPY. Here’s the part (slightly abridged) I found profound:

“I’m Isabel’s mother. So, you’re the one. You’d better come in. Just how much time did you spend with Isabel in England.” She did not offer to shake hands and was clearly hostile to him.

“Just a few hours. I’ve been thinking of her ever since.”

After a pregnant pause she said, “When she went to Oxford, Bella was engaged to be married to Victor Rolandson, a splendid young man she’s known most of her life. The Rolandsons are old friends of ours. Or at least they were until Bella came home and broke off the engagement abruptly.”

“I had no idea she was engaged.”

“She was wearing a diamond ring that was pretty hard to miss. Your poor powers of observation have caused a tragedy.”

“I’d like to be sorry, but I’m not, because I think she’s absolutely wonderful and I want her for myself. But ma’am, you used the word tragedy just now. My fiancée died in my arms at Pearl Harbor. My brother was killed by machine-gun fire on the beach at Bougainville. On D-Day I sent 5 young Americans to their deaths for the bridge in a one-horse town in France. I know what tragedy is, ma’am, and it’s not a broken engagement. “

And that, dear reader, is the point of this post.

Yes, bad things happen to us and we have to live with and deal with them. Please don’t hear that I am not sympathetic to the bad things that happen to people, especially during the recent hurricane here in Florida where more than 100 people lost their lives and there are thousands now homeless. The damage to property will take years to repair and clean up and the financial devastation is severe.

But the whining I hear and see, especially on social media, is embarrassing to me as a human being. The petty things (lack of cable and internet restoration, failure of everyone to pick up screws and nails on the streets in front of their homes, having to wait for someone to call them back for a service they think they are entitled to the minute they think they need it, and the slow response of the government to take care of their financial problems) people are complaining about are mind-boggling and just a tad infuriating. Where the heck did this incredible sense of entitlement come from?

Don’t answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. I know the answer and I don’t like it one bit.

As you think about the disasters, tragedies, and catastrophes you think you’re going through, give some thought to the 100,000,000 people estimated killed by Communism over the past century. And what they and their families went through before they either died or were out and out murdered by other human beings with the authority of their government.

Think about the civilians killed in bombings in World War II Europe, about the countless women raped by soldiers who think they were entitled to take whatever they wanted in conquered and occupied territory, about families separated by political ideology, about those who died simply trying to cross a man-made line of freedom between East and West Berlin. Think about young men and women sent to die in wars that accomplished nothing in the end. Think about the sex and human trafficking and slave trades still running rampant in the world today. Think about children who simply disappear and are never heard from again, and what their parents go through. Think about human beings who starve or freeze to death because there are simply no resources available to survive.

If you, or someone you know, thinks you’ve gone through something tragic, my best advice is to go find someone whose tragedy is worse. Do what you can to ease their suffering. You’ll probably find yours small by comparison. But, if you honestly can’t find someone worse off then you, what you are going through may truly be classified a tragedy. Go ahead and behave accordingly.

P.S. Pray for the evil in this world to be vanquished. It's real. And a real tragedy.

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To read more of Laurie's stories and observations about life click here


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