3 Practical Ways to Confront Tragedy Right Now
It feels like the worst of times – one of the worst of times.
If you’ve been reading the news or listening to the neighborhood grapevine, there have been what feels like an unprecedented number of tragedies lately in many communities. Human life seems to be snuffed out left and right, the cycle of life turning all too quickly. It’s downright depressing. For those prone to anxiety, it leaves many reliving the tragedies in their mind repeatedly, thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Now, the second set of brothers in as many weeks has been murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
All these tragedies make it very tempting to shut off the news (recommended), bury our heads in the sand, or find a cave to live in (let me know how that works out) until this business of illness, terrorism, and death blows over. For those of us for whom this is not an option, we have to take action – for action happens when we refuse to allow fear and anxiety to rule over us.
I don’t mean you need to train as an EMT, start a grassroots movement, or apply for a gun license (though those all have their place).
Here are three things we can all do now to help us work through the heavy emotions of grief and perceived helplessness.
1. Radical acceptance. As a national force, we can implement measures to prevent future tragedies, but 100% success in today’s climate seems to be as likely as mermaids and unicorns. As tragic and unfair as it seems, death is as much a part of life as birth. Accepting tragedies, even while taking action to prevent future ones, is the only way to begin healing and moving forward. You don’t, and shouldn’t, need to be OK with it. But accepting that it happened and there is no changing the past is an enormous mountain that, once traversed, clears the way for moving forward.
2. Introspection. The Talmud (Shabbat 106b) says that when tragedies strike a community, people should know that it affects the community as a whole. As challenging as it may be, we must perform spiritual introspections to find the holes, the missing pieces in the fabric of humanity that need to be filled.
Overwhelmingly, throughout the millennia, one of the most noticeable rips in the fabric has been rifts in brotherly love. What better way to learn from the tragic deaths of two sets of brothers than to love our living brothers and sisters?
Accepting others who act on their beliefs differently than us, and extending ourselves to those outside our immediate communal comfort zone, sounds deceptively simple. Deceptive because a lack of knowledge leads us to fear those we don’t understand. Changing the narrative can be as simple as refraining from saying something negative about someone to your colleague (simple; not easy) or greeting someone on the street you think is your cultural polar opposite. Spread the good vibes.
3. Radical gratitude. Search for the good in life like you’d search for your missing wallet.
I once had a conversation with a Holocaust survivor who spent time in Auschwitz that went something like this:
Her: I was 14 years old and lied and said I was older so they’d send me to work instead of killing me. They took my baby cousin out of my arms and sent me to work, and I never saw him again.
Me: How were you ever able to move on?
Her, beaming: Look what I have been blessed with. Healthy children who are now
adults, all of whom are Torah observant.
Me: But – but – most of your immediate and extended family was killed! Aren’t you
angry?! How can you ever be happy?
Her, still beaming: G-d blessed me with children and grandchildren, who are all Torah observant. A community. Health. I am luckier than some other people. What more could I ask for?
Radical gratitude means finding and focusing on the small things in life that are actually the big things. Appreciate them, for they are what makes life worth living.
The mothers of the two sets of brothers who were killed over the last two weeks shared searing messages after the deaths of their sons, and both messages had similar intimations.
Mrs. Paley said, “Every moment I had with them was a gift. Simply a gift.”
Mrs. Yaniv said, “Even in the painful loss, God sends kindnesses. The family Shabbat we had. The fact that we took a family photo recently. He sends kindnesses.”
Neither mother mentioned a word about anger or revenge; instead, both mothers spoke about appreciating the moments we have together, not out of fear of what the future may hold but because this moment is all there is. Focus on what you currently have or the good memories you have. The future will hopefully surpass all of our expectations.
We can make it happen. May we know no more sorrow.