Redefining Tragedy


By Mark E. Smith

My daughter had a scholarship interview on “the challenges she’s faced.” When she asked for my advice, I suggested describing the challenges, but mainly emphasizing how she’s overcome them, what we all can learn from them. After all, a tragic story is just… well… tragic. However, when we turn tragedy into triumph, that becomes an inspiring lesson for all.

It’s really the way life, too, works, isn’t it? For example, we know that dysfunction is generational, and when we see someone – hopefully not ourselves – repeating the cycle of generational dysfunction, it’s just tragic. Imagine a Ted Talk where the thesis was, “My parents were abusive alcoholics and now so am I….” The jaw-dropped audience would leave saddened and stunned. However, if the thesis was, “My parents were abusive alcoholics and here’s how I broke the cycle,” then there’s a riveting story all can learn and grow from.

I believe all of us have the ability to not rewrite our stories, but to finish them in ways that redirect them from the tragic to the triumphant, creating a phenomenally successful narrative – read that, life. The first chapters may be already written, but we can direct new ones, dramatically changing the story at any time.

See, tragedy is rarely a finite end, but almost always a remarkable opportunity for new beginnings, redirection. Yet, it’s rarely obvious. It takes a lot of awareness, introspection, and hard work to redirect our lives from tragedy to triumph. But, when we do, it’s the most important move we ever make, where tragedy stops, and healing and success begin.

Reflection, as I shared with my daughter, is key in this process – it’s where the learning curve is. If we’re unable to reflect on the tragedies in our lives, not only can’t we gain from them, but we’re at extreme risk of continuing living them. Any time that tragedy affects us, we ultimately need to find a space of reflection and introspection to stop the suffering and start the healing, the redirecting from the negative to the positive, the end of chapters and the starting of new ones.

It can be tough to do, I know. And, it’s heartbreaking when we see anyone – from loved ones to strangers – stuck in the wake of tragedy, sometimes a whole lifetime marred by its lingering effects. There are so many situations where it’s impossible to obtain clarity of thought in the situation, where reflection or introspection can’t occur because the scars are seemingly too deep or one’s capacities seem too limited. …Or, can it?

We often hear of people “hitting rock bottom.” I did this years ago in a marriage. The common misconception is that we hit rock bottom when we’ve lost everything, our lives in shambles. However, that’s rarely the case. I define “hitting rock bottom” as a point of uncanny clarity in the wake of tragedy, the point where we can reflect so honestly upon our past and present situations that we say, “Enough! I’m learning and growing out of this situation to live a healthier and more fulfilling life.” What’s wonderful is that we don’t have to be in shambles to do this – at any point, in any aspect of our lives, we can reflect upon that which isn’t working, that which has harmed us, learn from it, and move to new levels of success.

In these ways, tragedy doesn’t have to define us, it doesn’t have to be a life-long scar or pattern, but can be a catalyst for growth and change toward living the life of our dreams. As I shared with my daughter, the ultimate triumph over tragedy isn’t the inspiring messages we convey with others, but the liberation it brings to our own lives.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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