In the face of unfathomable loss, words are seldom enough. Silence is the easier option. Silence means there’s no risk of saying the wrong thing, of hurting those who are wounded beyond comprehension. Silence seems to ask for nothing, but it carries a terrible cost nonetheless.
Words that aren’t spoken can’t harm, but neither can they heal. When senseless tragedy strikes, it’s too easy to either turn away from it, or watch from afar in only ghoulish fascination. Engaging with a tragedy in any manner is terrifying, but it also offers the hope of making the world brighter than it would have been if silence reigned.
In silence, it’s easy to believe that everyone is an island, lost and alone, on a uncaring sea. Nature offers no comfort to the weak, no safety to the wounded and no respite for the weary. Alone, the world is a place both hostile and unwilling to compromise,
No matter how solitary and isolated they are though, humans are never truly alone. Even surrounded by strangers, people can find kindness, and support, and the voices that can sustain them when they lack the strength to carry on for themselves.
But that doesn’t mean tragedy can be ignored.
The loss felt when people are taken away can’t be denied. Nor can the cruelty which lead to the tragedy, or the pain which followed it, or any of the other things which tragedy brands indelibly into the human psyche. Even in the face of unbearable loss and unimaginable cruelty though, there are those who reach out, who give of themselves and make the world a better place than it would have been otherwise. The two sides don’t balance each other out, but they don’t negate each other either.
If there are any miracles in humanity, any balance against the demons that plague and haunt the hidden corners of the mind, it lies in the fact that sometimes the simplest of actions can save a life, or spare one from grievous harm, or even just shelter someone from a fearful situation that’s beyond their ability to control.
The memory of tragedy lingers on with little encouragement, not just in the lives of those who were directly affected but also in any touched by the ripples of the event. The memory of the common kind of human heroism doesn’t spread the same way, but it can have as great an effect. A life saved can go on to change the world in countless different ways, an uninjured body can retain the strength to help another in need, forming a chain of kindness that lifts up a multitude, and someone who is sheltered from the storm can retain the courage they need to do the hardest thing of all sometimes; face tomorrow.
That’s what makes even small bits of kindness a miracle worth celebrating. Even when the situation is bigger than any one person, the value of saving one life, of sheltering one psyche extends immeasurably far beyond the one to whom the kindness is offered. Where the scope of one person is limited, the scope of their whole life is far grander. Each life saved carries the hopes of thousands of tomorrows, of the thousands of new worlds that life may see, and the uncountable ways they can help make the future brighter than the past.
Weighed against a tragedy where thousands of tomorrows were lost though, that promise from a single life saved becomes a difficult calculus to take comfort in. The temptation is to sum the lives lost and discount the lives that were preserved, in order to justify the grief and anger which naturally follow in tragedy’s wake.
The truth though, is that neither grief nor anger need to be justified. They are as natural as the joy that follows a baby’s laughter. Holding them back, or denying their right to be experienced, or expressed, or expecting them to hasten away too fast yields only greater problems. Grief must have its time before the work of healing begins.
The sadness of grief is difficult to bear, but the world would be a far colder place without the warmth of tears to speak of what was lost as no words ever can.
In the wake of tragedy, it can be somewhere from difficult to impossible to find the balance between giving room for grief, and holding onto the memory of the brighter days that were and the hope of the ones to come. It becomes even harder to judge that balance in others too, as each person needs a different mixture in their expression and experience of sorrow and strength. And for some, the only path they have to rise beyond the tragedy they experienced is to lose their balance and let themselves fall first.
In the end, senseless tragedy is an aberration. It’s something which should never happen, but which cannot be denied once it has occurred. It pushes people off the map of their lives and leaves them lost in a terrifying abyss of danger. If there’s one thing that’s true even under such aberrant conditions though, it’s this: we’re not in this alone, and that can make all the difference.
(Author’s Note: This isn’t the original Chapter 14 that I had queued up for. After the events in Paris today (Nov 13, 2015) though, I decided to change the city for the Third Collision to Berlin, rather than Paris. It just didn’t feel like Paris needed fictional violence heaped on top of real tragedy at this point.
This post is half the size of a regular chapter only because I wanted the words to be the best ones I could manage in the time I had. I considered making this a stand-alone piece, but incorporating it into the story felt like it gave more weight. I had to make it good not just so the story would be ok, but because its meant as a commemoration for both the people who lost their lives and the ones who took in strangers and sheltered them on a dangerous evening.)