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5 Lessons From a Tragedy

Photo by Vanessa Paxton
The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it. ~Helen Keller

My beautiful state, the one I’ve called home for all of my life, is burning.

Wildfires have swept through some of the most picturesque corners of Colorado, forcing thousands to take stock of their belongings, grab what matters most and flee their homes.

The destruction is heartbreaking and the enormous mass of land that’s been destroyed ensures that each person in this state is affected in some way.

I’ve poured through the media coverage of the fires and wrestled with the intense sympathy and sadness I feel for those who now find themselves without comfort and without the sanctuary they have come to rely on.

Tragedy, whether it hits close to home or worlds away, has the ability to shake us to our core, place a harsh light on our own immediate experience, push us to reach out and remind us to be grateful for everything — big and small.

I’ve never been one to pay careful attention to the news, believing that, more often than not, it exacerbates the negative and leaves us fearful of the world around us. But there is also something to be said for being connected to others by being informed of their struggles and need for help.

Being connected to the human experience — whether tragic or exuberant — can make us feel alive and drive us to lessen the suffering of others.

If we are in tune with others and able to step outside of ourselves, tragedy can be a magnificent wake up call, a loud reminder to live authentic, meaningful lives.

In watching the reaction to these devastating wildfires and struggling with my own reaction, here is what I have learned:

1. Connection

Tragedy can show us our ties to others and strip us of our differences.

The tragedy may be horrific, but there is something about the way that people step up and come together to protect each other and fight for a common cause that can remind everyone that they have a place in this world.

When we are stripped of the excess or forced to forget what this excess represents, we can finally see one another in the way we were intended — as complete beings who experience the same emotions and deal with the same struggles.

We are deeply united no matter the circumstance, but tragedies can help us discover how intricately connected our roots are.

2. Awakening

Tragedy can awaken us to the lives we’ve been living.

When things are moving along smoothly — or relatively smoothly — it’s easy to simply go through the motions of living and not actually live. It’s so easy in fact, that most of the population is stuck in this kind of trance, forgoing growth and happiness for comfort and mild contentment.

Then, when tragedy strikes, we are forced to examine all that is keeping us from feeling alive — all the dreams we haven’t yet attempted to tackle, all the relationships we haven’t cultivated, all the adventures we haven’t committed to.

Recognizing how fragile life is and the complete lack of control we have over ensuring its longevity, forces us to entertain the thought: “If I died today, would I have been happy with the life I lived?”

3. Priorities

Tragedy forces us to re-evaluate our dedication to material pursuits.

It’s a common question we’ve all pondered at least once in our lives: if you had only a short time to take a few things from your home, what would you choose?

But with thousands of people all over Colorado being forced to do just that, this question seems more rooted in reality than it ever has before.

I’ve spent the past few weeks longing for a new patio set and cursing couches that seem to have worn out far quicker than I would have hoped. But these are not the things I would take with me, had I been in the line of fire.

I would have tried to collect the memories — photos, papers, tiny trinkets from my grandmother — the things that have no monetary value, only emotional value.

In the end I won’t remember what patio set I selected, I’ll only remember the nights I spend sitting on it with loved ones, sharing a bottle of wine and reconnecting with each other.

We spend a huge portion of our lives seeking monetary wealth and the perks that come with it — but when push comes to shove, we know that isn’t what we would risk our lives for, or what we hope to be remembered by.

4. Service

Tragedy reminds us of the satisfaction that can be had while helping others.

Most of us have become accustomed to living and operating within the context of our world, lending a hand to only those we are related to or close with and rarely venturing outside of our comfort zone.

We know there are others out there that we can help, but knowing and taking action are two very different things.

Tragedy forces us to act now and quickly takes us out of only thinking and acting in our own best interest. It breaks down barriers and strips us of the excuses we have for not stepping outside of ourselves.

One of the best ways to be fully present in the moment is to help others and to feel as if we have a higher purpose. Tragedy simply opens the doors to this experience.

5. Gratitude

Tragedy places a spotlight on the things we are already grateful for.

Perspective is a powerful thing, and when you see others stripped of their homes in an instant, it seems ridiculous to complain that your electric bill is too high or your lawn needs to be mowed for the third time this month.

While in the moment it can be slightly irritating, my boyfriend has a way of always reminding me that, no matter my complaint, someone in the world always has it worse than me. And every single time he is right.

We all have something to be grateful for, no matter the size, and no matter the dire circumstances we are in. Many of those who have lost their belongings in this tragedy are sharing their relief and gratitude that they are safe and their family is still firmly in tact.

~~

This, as all things do, will pass. But for now, let’s envelope those who are most closely tied to this tragedy in light and love.

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About the author

Kayla Albert is freelance writer intent on living life deliberately. You can follow her at Confessions of a Perfectionist. If there's a writing project you'd like for her to tackle, visit her website at kaylaalbert.com

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8 thoughts on 5 Lessons From a Tragedy

  1. Hi Kayla, sorry to hear about the tragedy, but great that you’re facing it bravely and still manage to take up some lessons within.

    Sadly to say, if I were to answer this question: “If I died today, would I have been happy with the life I lived?” .. my answer would be a No.

    Too many things yet to achieve, I’m not satisfy yet with this life. Many things block on my way, step by step slowly moving forward, towards my target in life. Life Goes On..

  2. Really beautiful words Kayla.
    I’m from Brisbane, Australia, and we had some pretty crazy and devastating floods here last year. It was a dreadful time, and very overwhelming, and yet – cliched as it sounds – the way that people banded together and helped others and gave of themselves is something that I will remember forever…
    Thinking of you all from the other side of the world!

  3. It really is tragic what is going on with the wildfires. It is such a sudden shock for those who are suddenly left without their roots. So it is a great time to pitch in and offer support to them. Tragic situations really are an amazing mixture of suffering and heroism and caring.

  4. Thanks for sharing.
    I often felt amazed by the fact that moments of crisis are the best opportunities for people to awake or being awaken.
    No better than a life crisis to help people change their mind on some issues they’ve been very stubborn about.
    When your world is collapsing, this is when you can accept change.

    Let ‘s not wait for the tragedy/crisis to happen to start changing our lives for the best.

  5. I have the same beliefs of the news and rarely watch it. I’m glad the wildfires inspired you to write and share with us your feelings on it, because now I know a little more about what is going on out there. Hearing about all this makes me feel for all the people out there and I will be sending lots of love and good vibes to everyone out there. You are definitely right with your 5 things that tragedy does do are a bit more positive. I recently went through my own tragedy that ended up bringing me and my husband much much closer.

  6. “Tragedy can awaken us to the lives we’ve been living.” – Spot on with that assessment. Sadly enough we’re all guilty of going through the motions and taking for granted people that we love. You don’t realize it, but when you say “goodbye” to a loved one, that could be your last words uttered to that person. I found that out the hard way when I lost my father. Painful way to learn a lesson, but a lesson learned nonetheless……..

  7. Great article!

    The key is to learn from tragedy and history. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to happen. Look at 9/11 in the U.S. Americans came together, for what, a few months, and then it went back to business as usual. You’d have thought that 9/11 would have finally taught Americans how fragile life is, but I don’t think it has. Most are sleep walking through their lives reacting to people and situations around them. They can’t see the forest through the trees. They blame everyone and don’t take responsibility for their actions, beliefs, and choices.

    Until the majority of people on planet earth wake up from their slumber, I don’t think they’ll get their priorities in order, see that we’re all connected (this includes nature and wildlife), be grateful for what they do have and realize that being of service isn’t a bad thing. The word ‘serve’ has a ‘negative’ connotation because of the history around it. Most think of it as being indebted to someone else.

    Peace and blessings to those around the world that are facing natural disasters. Be safe.

  8. Beautifully written Kayla.
    Sorry about the tragedy.
    I totally agree that they force you to re-evaluate material pursuits and sort of force you to figure out what’s really important in life. Before anything serious happens, people usually take things for granted. They put so much value into their material possessions that they don’t actually “live”
    They merely exist.
    I’ll quote Henri by saying ” Let ‘s not wait for the tragedy/crisis to happen to start changing our lives for the best “

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