We see the world around us and the people whom we know. We observe their moments of joy, their laughter and their triumphs. And we sometimes wonder why we are not as happy or as successful as they are. We then look at ourselves and we become aware of our failings and our incompleteness. We see our fears and lack of self-confidence as the possible reasons for our unfortunate circumstances. And we begin to wonder whether there was in fact something in our past, perhaps some painful loss that could have made us who we are today. We ask ourselves what event was so substantial that could have changed the way we see the world and what experience was so significant that could have altered the course of our lives leading us to where we are today? Finally these thoughts lead us to consider this question: Had this incident not happened to us, would we be happier, more successful or better individuals than we are now?
Tragedy can transform us. It can lead us to create a completely different belief system that acts to secure us from the possibility of further pain. And through this, it can change the very essence of who we are. A tragic experience may cause us to believe that we should trust no one, or that we must always prepare for disasters, or that everyone in our lives eventually disappears. As time goes by, we come to accept these beliefs as absolute truths. As a consequence, all our decisions will be based on these views. Furthermore, we start searching around us for proof that our beliefs are correct by looking at how other people’s lives were ruined by not adhering to these same tenets. As a result, our belief system is reinforced and we become all the more convinced that we are right. Years and even decades go by having gone through life holding on to these beliefs. And then one day, we begin to wonder whether we would have lived our lives differently had this tragedy so long ago not changed the way we view ourselves and the world.
It is a matter of grave consequence that we realize how a painful loss or an unfortunate experience can change the way we think, for it might just dictate how we spend the rest of our lives. A life-changing event can cause us to fear an uncertain future. And so we must challenge whatever thoughts that are brought about by such an experience. It helps to speak of our doubts, concerns and anxieties with people around us who are able to think clearly so that they may give us thoughtful feedback.
But sometimes, a painful loss or experience can be a blessing. It may help us appreciate what is missing in our lives. And this may give us a perspective that allows us to understand other people who may have experienced similar circumstances. Our loss may become a strength that enables us to connect to other people, which can help us realize the value of our own resilience and help others develop theirs.
In the end, we can choose to wonder whether there could have been a better, happier or more successful version of ourselves. Or we could choose to appreciate the life that we have been given and the sufferings we have survived that have made us into who we are. Furthermore, we can realize that the story of our lives is not yet over and that we can still be more fulfilled and triumphant as we write its remaining chapters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frederick Edward Fabella, PhD is a research director, dean and graduate school professor in the Philippines.