Tragedy’s Beauty: The Courage of Human and Hero

There’s a sort of beauty in tragedy. It’s an inevitable part of the human experience, even in the unlikely scenario the only tragedy a person ever faces is their own death. Maybe this is due to my current optimistic personality or my history of being a youth. Either way, I can’t help but appreciate the sadder moments in life for the beauty an impact they can have, if only you look.

There’s a great game I once played with the most bitter-sweet ending. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried my eyes out at the end of that video game. Despite the tragedy, the ending was perfect. It was the golden edge of a leather-bound book, the delicate white thread adding detail to a tapestry depicting a great ocean.

When all hope is lost, when we’re lower than we’ve ever been before, there is a certain beauty to simply surviving it all. We don’t always see it when in the situation unless someone outside points it out, but in those moments, we are heroes.

Reading a couple dozen pages on Norse mythology doesn’t make me much of an expert, but the idea that the gods understood and accepted the futility of their fight against evil left an impression on me. Where, in religion, mythology or even comic book lore are we presented with a hopeless tasks that heroes nevertheless embark on?

I was inspired by the idea that, even though the accepted reality of Asgard, where the Norse god reside, is that they will all eventually die and evil eventually win, they still kept fighting for good. They didn’t throw their hands up join the dark side just because that would be easier. They didn’t cease their fight for good simply because the fight was futile.

A hero isn’t always judged on their successes. They are also praised for their willingness to ride into battle against unbeatable odds so that the good in the world might last a little bit longer.

There’s a bullied child inside of me who has great respect for that idea. She understands the futility of doing what is right. When she looked at the average children in her school – the children who were neither friends nor bullies – she felt sorrow. They were all good people, but when they witnessed wrongdoing, they hardly ever spoke up. If they did, the bullies or the plastics would surly beat them back into place (in an emotional sense). Who in their right mind would risk their social status like that?

This photo, “Heroes” is copyright (c) 2014 Suus Wansink and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Because that was reality, I remember the rare moments where someone dared to stand up for me or for another bullied peer. They were among my heroes and, like the gods of Norse mythology, they stood against an inevitable reality. Regardless, their action and courage raised them above the average student. In that short moment, they became more. Even if they regressed back to a child when the moment ended, for that brief span of time, they reach maturity beyond the label of child.

Tragic beauty is still in our modern media, whether it be in a sad song or a tear-jerker film. Even as a tear rolled down my cheek in the middle of the Say Something music video, I saw its powerful message. Taken at face value, the song is about a broken relationship. The video expands this idea beyond a simple break up to also revolve around death and a troubled family. We see the struggle of three people who, despite wanting their relationship to continue, are forced to end it.

The viewer may choose to focus on the reluctant goodbye in that song. While that is an undeniable reality in the story of the song, there is something else unspoken. Those people are standing. They have risen above the tragedy of their situation and have gained the ability to walk away.

Something is only truly depressing or tragic when you let that tragedy bring you down. Maybe you’re thinking that dying in a battle against evil is the same as succumbing to the tragedy, but you’re wrong.

In the face of inevitable death in his fight against evil, one of my favorite heroes once said, “You know you can’t win. You can’t destroy what I really am. Even if you manage to kill this body, someone even stronger would surface to take my place.”

When he died, did this villains truly win? Did beating down one who fought for good erase good from existence? Even if you answer yes to those two questions, was his fight truly futile? Wasn’t it still worth fighting?

None of us will be here forever. No matter how many blessings or curses color our lives, we’ll all see a grave someday. That is the tragedy of life. That inevitability does not make life worth any less. In fact, it makes it worth so much more. That is what I heard in the ideas of Norse mythology. The inevitability of the Norse gods’ eventual failure in their fight for good did not make good any less valuable. On the contrary, it made all that was good an even greater treasure.

Do you think there is beauty in tragic or depressing stories? How does surviving tragedy affect people? When in the middle of a difficult or depressing situation, do you think a person can recognize the courage and strength to overcome? Or, does a person have to survive a situation first before than can recognize those qualities?


41 thoughts on “Tragedy’s Beauty: The Courage of Human and Hero”

  1. I totally think there is beauty in tragedy: i was bullied too. I have great character today because of it, and I can see that you do too TK. One’s character shines through in an emotional trauma such as bullying. The victim, in the end, actually wins. Much like the Norse Gods – they die, but live on in immortality through the next life, and the passing down of stories in the humans. You rock. I liked the line, “…the bullies or the plastics…” great descriptors – I get you. nice piece! I am glad it’s Monday – I was waiting for this/you. 🙂 have a great one TK –

    1. ^_^ I’m happy this spoke to you. While I am happy with who I am, I definitely don’t think it was worth the bullying. Still, there’s not anything we can do to avoid tragedies… we might as well do what we can to see the positive side of them.

      1. that’s right TK – make the memories work for you/us! totally….strength,strength…yeah, the bullying it just stinks. I don’t know about you, but i am SO glad those days are over….now, if the memories bother me, at least I can make the choice to do some art, or rent a movie and make some popcorn with my feelings….u know?? 😀

    1. Agreed. Sometimes, I feel like the people who lack the ability to understand people in difficult or tragic situations are the way they are because they haven’t experienced an equal tragedy themselves.

      1. That is SO true! I’m trying to write a blog right now, ib reaction to all the heart-breaking stories emerging about the appalling treatment of women and children in Mother and Baby homes in Ireland’s past…my story is not so horrific, but my early losses of parents and sisiers help me to empathise with them all….empathy is when you can recognise their feelings, sympathy is when you feel sorry for them…and pity is an uncomfortable coat to be wrapped in!
        Someone wrote that the words “Well at least….” are a sign of no empathy…for the fact that the worst pain you’ve ever felt is still the WORST TO YOU! You have to open your heart to the pain, not the details…if that makes sense! Writing in hast…hey ho! x

  2. I think you might enjoy the game Limbo. Quite short, very vividly beautiful and really embllematises the kind of ‘hopeless struggle’ you’re talking about.

  3. Do you think there is beauty in tragic or depressing stories?
    Absolutely. Sometimes, beauty is like a diamond. It starts as an ugly lump of coal, but with time and pressure and the wearing down of constant stresses, it become something unimaginably different. More beautiful than a lump of coal could ever hope to be.

    How does surviving tragedy affect people?
    Depends on the person. Some will survive and become better, stronger for it. Some will be left irreparably broken, wallowing in the misery of memory.

    When in the middle of a difficult or depressing situation, do you think a person can recognize the courage and strength to overcome? Or, does a person have to survive a situation first before than can recognize those qualities?

    I think the qualities it takes to overcome are something we either have or we haven’t. The situation doesn’t create them, it simply reveals them.

    1. So, given your answers, do you think life’s tragedy’s are a way of weeding out the weak? Those who are left irreparably broken, will it ever be possible for them to see the diamond in their lump of coal. Can everyone see that or is it dependent on support and encouragement from other people?

      1. I think the answer is as variable as snowflakes. Certainly, some who would not, could not pull through are weeded out, so to speak, by tragedy. Others pull through it fine. Some who don’t will eventually, with time, do the same. Some who don’t will do so with the help of others, just as a jeweler might polish a gem to its true form. But every gem, every tragedy, is like every snowflake. Unique in how it forms and where it falls.

  4. I think everyone has tragedy in their life, which is why we connect to tragic moments. Tragedy brings people together and that is beautiful. Beauty in tragedy. Thanks for this post. This is really a great read.

    1. I think that’s why I sometimes like reading or watching tragic media. A song like Say Something is so tragic, but it also has a positive message if you try and look at it that way.

  5. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, sometimes it would be nice not to have to be strong though.
    A lot of the time in the middle of a situation it is simply survival, instinct. I have usually found that it us only later, sometimes much later that the strength that was there is realized.
    For me , the real beauty from tragic stories is found when your pain is used to help someone else’s pain. That way your tragic story has some kind of purpose

    1. That’s kind of what I’m starting to wonder. Maybe we’re not supposed to have to be strong. Maybe we’re supposed to have other people there to support us, empathizing with us.

      1. I think so. For me being “strong” was always just a coping mechanisms, a way of not processing. It was not only what I thought was necessary, but what I thought you were supposed to do.

        Years later when I was getting help to reengage feelings / emotions, while making peace with my past, I realized that strong was not the way it was meant to be, for me at least.
        Having people who will support without judging and empathize without trying to fix, that is real strength 🙂

  6. I think I’m proof that a person can recognize the courage and strength to overcome a difficult or depressing situation. I am extremely aware of where my life would have headed had I not at an early age had the foresight to step away from the life I was born into. Growing up I was my role model and still am to this day. I’ve always believed that anyone can achieve anything their heart can desire if they work for it.

    1. That’s sort of how I think. I mean, how many kids let their bullies turn them bitter? How many still feel hate for them in adulthood? How many aren’t alive today because they ended it when the bullies pushed them too far? I don’t know how I came to think the way I did at such a young age, but I’m grateful I thought the way I did. My life would be dramatically different otherwise.

  7. A very thought-provoking read, TK. I really liked it.

    I’m of a literary bent after reading your essay. King Lear found his humanity through enduring tragedy. Abandoned by all those whom he counted on, exiled outdoors to face the savage tempest, he did not seek to escape, but embraced his tragedy, drinking his Fate to the dregs. Through his courage, he finally transcended his own personal tragedy to see his connection with others who are similarly afflicted by life’s storms. Naturally, there is no happy ending save Lear’s self-recognition–this is Shakespeare, after all.
    And don’t get me started on Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus.

    BTW, thanks for liking my posts. Glad you enjoy them.

    1. Story telling has often been a way for us to explain reality. I haven’t read King Lear (but it’s on my to-read list), but I understand what your saying. It is through tragedy that we often learn the most about ourselves.

  8. There’s definitely beauty in tragedy. That’s why tragic comedies like Romeo and Juliet exist. (Anyone that say Romeo & Juliet is a good love story needs to get throat punched.)

    Just out of curiosity, what was the game that you played? Was it Final Fantasy X?

    1. Awww, I love Romeo and Juliet. I don’t really have a reason for that, I just love the story ^_^ Sorry.

      And yes, it was FFX. I definitely cried. Part of the reason I dislike FFX-2 so much is because it ruined that perfect ending. I like to pretend X-2 was like bad fanfiction.

      1. Romeo and Juliet is a great story! It’s just a TERRIBLE love story. GREAT comedic tragedy, and that’s definitely on purpose. Shakespeare was a great storyteller. I mean, the story is about the failed adults, prejudice mainly and, and paying attention to your kids. Not love.

        And I totally agree about FFX. It takes guts to have a bittersweet ending, and FFX had one of the most believable love stories, complete with sex metaphor and all. And that’s coming from a diehard FFVII fan. FFX-2 was just a slap in the face to the fans.

        1. But, BECAUSE I love FFX so much, I did purchase the HD remake. And, I didn’t find FFX-2 enjoyable. I mean, it was fun enough to play. The music was good. The world was beautiful. That story line was just terrible, though.

          I have a going list of the worst Final Fantasy games in my head. Dirge of Cerberus currently hold the crown for worst FF game (which is a shame because Vincent is one of my favorite Final Fantasy Characters). I think FFXIII comes next and X-2 in third. The only reason I hold FFXIII as worse than X-2 is because there is no game-play. It’s borderline boring to play. If not for the great story and music, it would be boring to play. I guess that means I value game-play over story.

          Sorry for the sudden dump. I’ve had these lists floating in my head. I should just write a Sunday Blog post about them to get these thoughts out ^_^

          1. No worries! I love talkin’ vidya gaems way too much to care.

            Honestly I liked the dress spheres and fight mechanics of X-2, but that’s 85% because I like the FF classes (white/black/red/blue Mage, warrior, thief, ect), the other 15% is because some of the outfits were visually interesting. Terrible story and back pedaling character development though.

            XIII was bad for me as well. I couldn’t find any of the character relatable, and the battle system felt repetitive.

            One of these days I’m going to revisit Dirge of Cerberus. I know it was super mellow dramatic and the plot made no sense, but damn if I’m not a sucker for the lore behind Hojo/Lucretia. After all, it wasn’t because Hojo was batshit insane and Lucretia a selfish person and terrible mother, then FFVII wouldn’t happen as it did. They are both characters I love to hate.

            Have you played Bravely Default? Despite my blog post about what was wrong with the title, I had A LOT of fun with it. And I felt Edea was a strong female character.

            1. Dirge was just missing too much. The world was visually appealing, the music was only so-so, the battle system was finicky and the story was pointless. I felt like Vincent could have sat on his ass for the whole game and nothing would have changed. We open with him staring at Lucretia in crystal and we end that way. I forgave Kingdom Hearts for it’s finicky battle system because everything else about the game was great. Dirge was just too much of a train wreak for me. Even if I tried, I don’t think I could replay through the whole thing.

              Bravely Default is a 3DS game, right? I don’t have that system so I haven’t played the game. I’m still trying to play through FFIII on my old DS.

  9. I think the beauty is not in the tragedy, but it is found in the response of people to tragic events. We do not surrender. We do not falter. We rise up and continue because there is nothing else to do.

    As for the Norse mythology, the gods revel in battle and believe the only glory can be found in death on the battlefield. Even so, the end of the world (Ragnarok) is not the end so much as it is a wiping of the slate to begin anew. The gods know this and know their role is to fight and die for a new world to begin. They see their deaths as a necessary sacrifice.

    1. Well, there is one other thing that can be done if life is too hard to live. In a previous post, I talked about consciously choosing life. Perhaps that’s part of the beauty. When life gets that hard, we know we could end it all easily. Yet, somehow, most continue on. Perhaps they too see battles with tragedy as a necessary sacrifice.

  10. To answer your question. In the middle of a difficult situation, sure. In the middle of a depressing situation, not so much. Some people talk out loud: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Some people die trying to tear down walls. Depression is the birthplace of negative actiion or inaction but even negative actions energize the everyday heroes among us to act often to their own demise.

  11. I’m amazed by those Norse gods, fighting for good even though they know they will eventually loose. It reminds me of my own belief that we should keep on trying to solve problems, including unsolvable problems, even if our only reason is to show God (or any higher force) that we care and are trying to do better as life forms.

    What rubs me the wrong way, though, is the idea that the end of the world means evil will triumph. In purely scientific terms, the Earth will eventually become uninhabitable, but that won’t be the result of evil. It will just be part of nature’s cycles. I for, one, do not like it when nature’s cycles are treated as though they’re evil.

    1. I don’t know that I got that part right. It just that the forces they fight will one day be their demise. They will never win. However, there will always be a cycle – there will always be people to fight on either side. I don’t have a complete understanding, so I may look more into Norse Mythology.

      I often think the same way you do about the world’s unsolvable problems. Take poverty for example. I know a lot of people who think it’s a stupid thing to fight because there will always be poverty. The way I see it, even if we never rid the world of poverty, we can at least reduce poverty. Maybe that’s not enough for some people, but for those who are lifted out of poverty, that effort is everything. It’s not a pointless goal.

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