Is there a purpose in personal tragedy?


Eric Van Fossen PA-C, CH

After an event that negatively impacts our life, many of us seek out the “why.” We suffer. We want our suffering to have meaning. We struggle to find the big purpose, the reason, why this horrible thing has happened. In any personal tragedy, we often desire comfort in knowing that there was a reason, a purpose to our loss. Often, we do not find it. We do not gain insight to the universe’s template; that design which would show us the reason why and provide us a hint of comfort.

Perhaps it is our modern culture that drives a wedge of narcissism into all of us. “Something horrible has happened to me, I have suffered great loss; so there must be a higher purpose.” We are often left wondering what future path we are to now choose based on past events. We yearn to find a future path that will help the past events to suddenly make sense. It may never make sense; anymore than driving a new route to work tomorrow won’t change the fact that you experienced a flat tire yesterday.

The bad news is that we may never to get to see the big purpose of our tragedy. The good news…well the good news is, that maybe the tragedy we experienced is the just the very first step in a bigger miracle - which we never get to see. The first flap of a butterfly’s wings that changes the world.  I suspect the new purpose and the grace that will come from it, operate on a different level; a microscopic level that we are blind to; due to our self-centered ways and the noise of our modern world.

So, I propose this; that most of the time, the new grand higher purpose which we seek, is hidden amongst the trees and the litter of our lives. Perhaps we are blind to them, our vision limited by too much internal awareness and too little time on this earth. Big purposeful changes can take a long time. What if the purpose behind a tragedy takes a hundred years or multiple generations to play out? Maybe a tragic event in our lifetime is only the initializing event in what ends up being a large miracle 100 years from now. Yes, it hurts, and maybe we suffer even more if we never get to see the reason why; the miracle beyond that suffering. The bigger purpose, the miracle behind the suffering, may require many more events before coming to fruition.

I also suspect that we can adjust our own filter to discover some of these little steps. Minor events, which fall together to create the bigger purpose. I think we are so lost in our desire for immediate insight and relief, that we don’t look for the little miracles surrounding us. I think we need to prime ourselves to see them. We need to change our filter, so it captures all the crap, while letting the thousands of minor miracles drip through into our awareness.

So maybe we should look for all the minor miracles that happen every day. We need to search them out after we are beset by a tragedy. Maybe your suffering now grants you true empathy to assist another. Then, that other person goes on to touch yet another life, all because you learned in your suffering just how intently someone might need to be comforted. What if their new ability to comfort others, which they learned from you, changes yet another life? Then that life proceeds to give birth to a child that saves a thousand people from some disaster fifty years from now?

What if a teenage boy, usually full of angst, learns to comfort an aunt that has suffered loss? Is it not a miracle that some new neurological pathway has been opened to him which will enable him to become a loving father? Years later his child may bring love to the world and change things forever.

Or perhaps a person that is suffering, forces themselves to smile at a stranger.  What if that one smile is that exact thing needed by that stranger to change her life in one miniscule way?  One forced smile and two years from now, who knows all the minor miracles that may have bloomed?

You see, we are naïve to think that we get to see the big purpose behind our own tragedies. We are self-centered to hope that it completely and solely involves just us. We are blind to the thousands of minor miracles that occur along our path. The little things we miss and can’t begin to understand, can shape a better world. Maybe not for us and quite possibly for someone we will never know.

So, create your filter. Every morning ask yourself,

“How many minor miracles will I see today and how will I be even more aware of their presence in my life?”

Then start writing down every conceivable minor miracle you can find. It is best to write them out by hand in a journal. Review them at the end of the day.

I am curious, but you know for sure, that there are a certain number of minor miracles that make up one bigger purpose. The answer lies in looking for the minor miracles.

Bigger purpose = (minor miracles) Y

Solve for why.