Tragedy’s silver lining. Does it sound preposterous or even downright disrespectful to say: “in the midst of tragedy, opportunities abound.”? Well, it’s true. Before you balk at such an idea, let me say that there is nothing alright about losing precious lives. And, the Coronavirus Pandemic, at the present moment, has already taken 156,076 lives from across the globe. So, where’s the silver lining? The answer lies in what we can learn from experiencing life’s tragic events. And, given the preponderance of tragedies, we better learn what there is to learn from them.

Surviving catastrophic tragedy. An unspeakable, unbearable tragedy shattered my world on July 2, 2011. Then, the shockwaves of that horrid tragedy reverberated back, and forth. Backward, to a decade earlier, stirring up and shaking loose unresolved family dysfunction; and, forward, to the present day, causing further tragic consequences of that fatal day. If I was ever to survive the tragedy of losing my wife, after she was brutally bludgeoned to death by her eldest son, I needed to find a hopeful side to that horrid event. Believe me, discovering what that glimmer of light could possibly be, in the midst of such darkness, escaped me for many years.

As holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Vicktor Frankl said in Man’s Search For Meaning, “nobody of us is spared suffering at one time or another. But everybody in the midst of suffering is given a chance to bear testimony of the human potential at its best, which is to turn a personal tragedy into a human triumph.” 

We get to choose our world. The good news is that we get to choose the world in which we live. Love over hate. Kindness over selfishness. Compassion over cruelty. Selflessness over selfishness. Gratitude over self-pity. Forgiveness over anger. Star gazing over porn gazing. Eating healthy over unhealthy eating. Moderation over excess. Human connection over isolation. Engaging the present moment over ruminating over the past. Healthy over toxic relationships. Courage over cowardice. Altruism over greed. Smiling over frowning. 

We don’t have to go through life on autopilot. We get to change outcomes by changing ourselves. As the chinese proverb, attributed to Lao Tzu, cautions us: “watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”. When we take responsibility for our lives, it becomes empowering to realize that we are not helpless. We get to choose how we go through this life: healthy or unhealthy; safe or dangerous; violent or non-violent.

Self-Agency. I am reminded of one of my favorite cartoons called THE QUEST, an  American comic strip written and drawn by Hilary B. Price and distributed by King Features Syndicate (see Rhymes with Orange

The cartoon depicts a ZEN CENTER storefront. The sign in the window reads: “SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT? INQUIRE WITHIN. A passerby turns to an apparently enlightened person seated in a cross-legged yoga position, on the sidewalk, in front of the sign. She inquires: “WHERE’S THE DOOR?” He responds: “NO DOOR.” 

What’s my point? We need to go inside ourselves to change our lives! And, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to the heroic efforts of our essential workers and healthcare professionals, many of us have been given the gift of living in a quieter world. Let’s take advantage of the temporary changes in the pace of our lives.

Be still. If we are amongst those who have, so far, managed to escape the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic, we owe it to our heroes, to those who have died, and to ourselves to make the best of what is. Yes, many of us are already asked to stay inside our homes, and that’s making us stir-crazy; but, we need to go deeper inside to discover the silver lining in all of this madness. 

Here’s an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s East Coker (from the Four Quartets) that, I believe, captures what we can find in the silence …

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not read for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Meditate. Write in a journal. Practice gratitude. Practice mindfulness. Practice self-compassion. Practice yoga. Listen to your singing bowls. Sing. Dance. Create. Immerse yourself in nature. There’s much we can do, even now.

Last evening, I had a FaceTime session with a new client who finds the madness particularly stressful. He’s not alone. We are all burdened by the stress of living in our temporarily (more accurately, forever) changed worlds. Many of us are experiencing additional pressures from living in closer proximity to our family members. In such times, we are called upon to be our best selves. First and foremost, that requires self-love, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness. I suggested that we focus on our breath. And, for awhile, we sat, in silence … breathing. It’s comforting to know that all that we need is already inside us and that, even in the midst of tragedy, we can find reasons to be hopeful. 

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly caused widespread tragedy and trauma — broken hearts from loss of loved ones, pain and suffering from being sick, being scared, and being alone; economic mayhem; and, other unintended consequences. Our bodies are being attacked. We are being challenged emotionally and psychologically. These times demand our best self-care practices. 

Tragedy breaks us open. The shattering of our world provides the opportunity to start life anew; to see more clearly, or perhaps for the first time; to have the ability to re-define ourselves; to have the ability to realign our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with what feels right to our authentic selves — now, in the present.

Each day is a new day. And, with each new day comes new opportunities to make choices: to choose strength over weakness and kindness over cruelty. Now’s the time for more expressed gratitude; more love and kindness; and, more volunteerism and philanthropy. 

These horrid times may provide us with new personal growth that creates unforeseen opportunities ahead. And, that’s the silver lining of tragedy.

Photo Credit: Fusion Medical Animation


  • Burton M. Fischler

    M.A., Certified Life Coach


    Burton M. Fischler received a Master’s Degree in Psychology and doctoral program teaching fellowship from New York University. Burton is a speaker, teacher, lecturer, and writer. After unwittingly becoming an expert in traversing life’s vicissitudes - surviving trauma, healing, growing, and thriving - Burton became a Certified Life Coach, specializing in trauma recovery and personal transformation.

    For organizations, Coach Burton offers wellness workshops, intensives, and one-on-one coaching services, as part of their employee benefits programs. For individuals and families, struggling with trauma recovery, grief and loss, anxiety, depression, or sobriety, Coach Burton provides evidence-based practices; professional resources and guidance; companionship, encouragement, and support; and, accountability

    Burton's soon-to-be-published book, THE GIFT: Tragedy To Triumph -- How to Rise Up When Life Beats You Down, is the author's spiritual memoir, slated for international distribution this year.

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