post written by: Marc Chernoff

What You Need To Know When Tragedy Strikes


When Tragedy Strikes

The Accident

Tragedy strikes a man who isn’t yet old.  A mini-van traveling toward him on a dark mountain highway hits his car nearly head-on just after sunset.  He grasps his steering wheel hard and veers into the rocky mountainside until his car screeches to a halt.  The mini-van flips onto its side and skids in the other direction off the cliff, plummeting 500 feet to the ground.  Inside is a young family of five.

He doesn’t recall the events that followed during the next few days.  He doesn’t recall the three eye witnesses who comforted him and assured him that it wasn’t his fault – that the other driver had swerved into his lane.  He doesn’t recall how he got to the emergency room or the fact that he stayed there for five days to treat a concussion and a broken collar bone.

The Guilt

What he does know – and clearly recalls – are the endless string of days he passes sitting alone in his bedroom, crying, and thinking, “Why me?”  Why after forty-eight years of Sunday church attendance, unwavering faith, and regular community volunteering and charity, would God ask him to spend the rest of his life knowing that he singlehandedly killed an entire family?

He has a loving, supporting family that tries to comfort his ailing heart, but he can only see them as the loving family he has taken from the world.  He also has an overflowing network of close friends who want to see him smile again, but they now represent friends that others have lost because of him.

The man who isn’t yet old begins to age more rapidly.  Within a few short months, he is a shell of his former self – skin and bones, wrinkles creasing across his face, a despondent downward gaze, and a hole in his heart that has grown so wide he feels like there’s nothing left at all.

All of the people around him – those family members and friends who care so much – have done everything in their power to revive him to his former self.  When love didn’t work, they tried relaxing vacations.  When vacations didn’t work, they tried getting him involved in community activities.  When the community activities didn’t work, they tried doctors.  And now they have resigned from trying.  Because the man who is now an old man has completely resigned from everything.

The Dream

A night comes when he decides that it’s just not worth it any more – that it’s time to leave this world behind.  Perhaps to go somewhere better.  Perhaps to go nowhere at all.  Luckily, he decides to sleep on it, because he barely has the strength to keep his eyelids open.  So he closes his eyes and instantly falls into a deep sleep.

And he begins to dream.  In it, he is sitting in a dimly lit room at a round table across from an elderly woman who looks much like his late mother.  They stare at each other in silence for several minutes and then the elderly woman speaks.

“My son, tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered.  Because within tragedy lie the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy.  If we choose to plant these seeds, they grow strong.  If, on the other hand, we choose to overlook them, we prolong our tragedy and let somebody else to discover the miracle.”

The old man cries in his dream and in his sleep.  He thinks about his wife, and his children, and all of the wonderful people who care for him.  And he suddenly realizes that instead of using the tragic accident to notice how precious life is, he has prolonged the tragedy and essentially ceased to live his life.  And he is very close, now, to passing all of his pain and sorrow over to the people he loves most in this world.

A New Beginning

He opens his eyes and takes a deep breath.  He is alive.  He realizes that he still has an opportunity to change things…  To mend the broken pieces and experience the miracle that comes after the tragedy…  To plant the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy, and water these seeds until they grow strong.

He rolls over and kisses his wife on the cheek and ruffles her hair until her eyelids begin to flutter.  She opens her eyes and looks at him, totally confused.  There’s a spark in his eyes that she hasn’t seen in a long while – a spark that she thought had died with his youth on the day of the accident.  “I love you so much,” he says.  “I’ve missed you,” she replies.  “Welcome back.”

Photo by: Bernardo Borghett

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18 Comments

  • great read marc and angel.

  • thats inspiring :) there is always a chance to start again, thanks Marc :)

  • sweet story. I guess, with in every tragedy, one must find there way out before the deep dark thoughts of self eradication takes control.

  • What a beautiful inspiration. There are many tragedies that we face in life, not just loss through death. We have all suffered with being abandoned, abused, or had to deal with losing a friend or a parent. This piece reminds us all that there is life after pain and that from the deepest pain comes the promise of tomorrow.

  • Hi Marc,

    “why…would God ask him to spend the rest of his life knowing that he singlehandedly killed an entire family?” God didn’t ask him to spend the rest of his life with the guilt of that action, particularly if it wasn’t his fault on the roadways. It was his thinking that lead him to believe that he was also a victim of the accident. I’m glad that the story comes with a realization that yes, bad things happen to good people, but how we react to them and what lessons we learn from them, is very important.

  • hey Marc, a really nice and inspiring article. people like you help our society to live their life at fullest.
    please keep up the good work. Thanks again

  • Something so shocking and tragic changes a person irrevocably so try as they might loved ones aren’t able to guide you back to the person you were. You know you are a husk of your former self but your beliefs, coping mechanisms, faith etc have been smashed to smithereens so finding your way out the dark place you find yourself in is so difficult. You have to hope that over time you can gather the pieces and build a new life. I know, I have just started gathering my pieces…

  • @Karen: Correct. God didn’t ask him to do anything. My point was simply to state an example of how he was thinking - his mind was in the gutter.

    @All: Thanks for the additional seeds of wisdom. ;-)

  • That was excellent! It’s not what happens but our opinion of what happens that decides how it effects us.

  • Heavy to the heart.
    Maybe because I haven’t totally planted all the seeds yet or has been digging it up all over again and not allowed it to fully grow.
    Thanks for this. Got to plant it for good.
    :)

  • dear marc and angel.
    normally i don’t comment, i simply absorb your words through your blog and try to incorporate them into everyday life.
    i find your blog incredibly inspiring, thought-provoking and as a young adult who just graduated from college and has the daunting task of finding my place in the world, i truly appreciate your words and how artfully you phrase them.
    this specific entry was different for me.
    the quote, (that has now been entered into my quote book) “tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered. because within tragedy lie the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy. if we choose to plant these seeds, they grow strong. if, on the other hand, we choose to overlook them, we prolong our tragedy and let somebody else to discover the miracle.”
    those words hit home. my grandmother, at 72 was diagnosed with severe breast cancer just weeks before thanksgiving of this year. she was resigned to thinking that it was god’s way of telling her it was time to come ‘home’. however, after many talks to her kids, grandchildren, and friends, she has fought through 2 rounds of chemo, double mastectomy, and currently finishing up radiation- i’m proud to say she has planted those seeds.
    whenever there is a tragedy, like the one you described, or cancer in my world. i believe it is essential to have a positive attitude.
    around the same time as the diagnosis of my grandmother, a friend from a past church, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage 4. she was around 25. she is making a full recovery and also planted many seeds.
    and finally, my adopted grandmother was just (a few days ago) diagnosed with cancerous tumors in her kidney- i plan to pass this quote onto her, so she can begin to plant her seeds as well.

    i apologize for the long winded comment, however, i want you to know, that your words do not end as a ‘post’ on your blog. they ripple throughout my personal world and i’m sure through many others as well.

    thank you for that.

  • Hi Marc,

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring post. Everyone has the chance to start over. It is never too late. Thanks for sharing

  • This post reminds me of the mantra that I developed in college: “Nothing bad every happens. (It may hurt like hell, but that doesn’t make it bad.)” This story is a perfect example of what that mantra means.

  • This reminded me of a blog post I read recently about the tragedy of losing a child (at krisking.org). Although I can’t imagine going through such heartache, your style of writing gives me a glimpse of what it’s like to pick up the pieces after a tragedy.

  • What really struck me was this line: “Tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered. Because within tragedy lie the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy.”

    Though there is no pressing tragedy that is currently marring my life - I do feel I have some problems blocking my road. Just now I felt - “could those problems be turned into an opportunity to love and forgive?”

    …………Yes, why not?

    Thank you. For the perspective you’ve given me in this moment.

  • i don’t normally bother to take the time leaving comments, but this story caught me with a few stray tears making their way out and down.

    i’ve spent the past few months away from church…and more importantly, the past few weeks away from God. i know it wasn’t the point of this article to point anyone in any specific spiritual direction, but the ending to me says the words of my Savior whenever i find i’ve drifted off and started glancing over my shoulder to see if i’ve been missing something.

    i think i’m going to take my mom up on her offer and go to her church tomorrow morning.

    thank you, marc.

  • “He rolls over and kisses his wife on the cheek and ruffles her hair until her eyelids begin to flutter. She opens her eyes and looks at him, totally confused. There’s a spark in his eyes that she hasn’t seen in a long while – a spark that she thought had died with his youth on the day of the accident. “I love you so much,” he says. “I’ve missed you,” she replies. “Welcome back.”

    This last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. A truly inspirational story and a demonstration on unconditional love.

  • This is what i needed to read this morning in search of how to forgive and love my husband . Discovered he was in an affair for over 3 years and is now broken with shame and remorse . He doesn’t blame me but says I was always mad at him and he didn’t know why . I don’t know if it wouldve made a difference he was on his own journey I believe and i was unhappy with his isolation . I need to plant seeds of love, forgiveness and empathy. Thank you

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