The Limits of Tragedy

(As a preamble, I find it very difficult to chose which thoughts to turn into blog entries and which to discard. I could write 3 entries per day, but they would probably be lazy rants or shallow opinion pieces at best. The opposite error of writing virtually nothing is that into which I tend to end up falling.)

I’ve been thinking about my last entry on the Hardy poem. When I published it I wasn’t satisfied with it. There were two problems. The first is that I was trying to do an analysis of a particular poem and also introduce my general feelings on sad media at the same time. The second was that I know that the position has limitations that I wanted to address but couldn’t find a concise way to.

To recap, I love sad media because I find that analyzing and interpreting it gives the reader a sort of upper hand against there own sadness. It’s also a sort of celebratory indulgence; I have suffered from depression and now being able to go back to sad material gives me a way of mocking it. “Ha ha! I beat you! Now what are you going to do?”

So I read a poem about the suicide of a church-builder and I think “This is great! This is rich material! This is a challenge both to my faith and to my general optimism and it will only make my faith and optimism stronger!” And I was right. I think my analysis of the church-builder’s actual sin stands and the lesson is surely important, but I want to address my own sin in this.

I celebrate a battle that I have (mostly) won, but what of those who still suffer? If someone is in the midst of contemplating suicide, or else just otherwise dissatisfied with life, what does it do to them to see someone mocking their predicament? I find an eerie comfort in the face of material that would once give me nightmares (if I were lucky, otherwise I wouldn’t sleep at all.) Others don’t.

Suicide, depression, loneliness, heartbreak – these are all things that once scared me, some still scar me, but now none subjugate me. And I know that during my own battles I wouldn’t have overcome had I not explored these feelings through different kinds of media, but I want to offer this caution to people who now stand as I do: Be careful not to make another’s struggle harder. Tough love and frank speech have a place, but we must discern those circumstances with care, err on the side of sensitivity, and never ever mock the struggle.

In Aurelius’ Meditations, he writes “Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.” I’ve taken these words to heart, but I didn’t do so overnight.

Understand the limits of tragedy. For me and you it may be catharsis, but for them it’s a curse.


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