Unity in Tragedy

Recovery of the final body lost in the fishing-boat tragedy in Union Hall allowed loved ones to finally honour and mourn the sudden and sad passing of their loved one.  What was striking about the catastrophe was the very active love, support, compassion provided by individuals of the Union Hall community and, indeed, beyond, and by the divers who risked their own lives in search of the missing persons.

In a poem at the outbreak of World War 11 the poet W.H. Auden wrote: “We must love one another or die”.  How accurate Auden was and how much that lesson still needs to be learned in so many ways in so many warn- torn and political- torn countries.  However, there is a paradox to tragedy and war and that is in these catastrophic times people find it is their hearts to reach out with love, compassion, consolation, support, cooperation and be self-sacrificing for the sake of others.  I am not suggesting we need disasters and wars to awaken our true nature, which is love, but this phenomenon certainly begs the question: how is it that we struggle with loving others in times of plenty?  How was it that during the ‘boom’ economic times sight was lost of fairness, equality, individuality, justice and that a ‘me fein’ ethos predominated.  The Dalai Lama echoed this absence of emotional and social care when he argued that “Love and compassion have been omitted from too many spheres of social interaction for too long; their practice in public life is considered impractical, even naive.  This is tragic”. 

I believe that loss, death and difficult times provide some level of emotional safety for people to express our hunger to give and receive love.  These times also allow individuals to mourn their own experiences of loss of love and loved ones alongside those who are mourning in the here and now.  Somehow men come more to the fore in times of calamities, as if somehow their very real reticence around the expression of love can be suspended in the face of those people who so openly manifest their grief and distress, and even more poignantly when the bodies of their loved ones cannot be found.  We have seen that sad phenomenon repeated many times when a father or son or mother or daughter went missing without trace in Northern Ireland.  Even when a body is unearthed over 30 years later, it brings a certain peace to those bereaved.

Great gratitude and appreciation need to be extended to all those individuals in Union Hall and beyond who pulled out all the stops to find the missing bodies and allow family members, relatives and friends to put the souls of their loved ones to rest.  People talk about this as drawing a closure around the tragedy, but I believe there is no such experience as closure around the loss – tragic or expected – of a loved one.  There is certainly a meeting of the need to have the body of the loved one laid to rest but one never truly gets over the death of a loved one.  What we do learn is to live with it and maintain the love connection that to my mind is both timeless and infinite.

Marie Rilke, the German poet, says that “to love is to cast light”, while “to be loved means to be ablaze”.  Certainly, the love shown by individuals in Union Hall ‘cast a light’ not only on those who were suffering loss but on us all.   Equally – and not often appreciated – the very evident receiving of love by those who were so evidently bereft set us all ablaze.  There is a secret about human love that is frequently over-looked: receiving is much more frightening and scary than giving.  It has been touching to witness the love expressed and received so powerfully by all involved in the Union Hall tragedy.  The lesson for us all is not to wait for tragedy to be expressive of and receptive to love.

I am going to finish with a poem by Hafiz, which is quoted in a wonderful book by John Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships:

Jump to your feet, wave your fists,

Threaten and warn the whole universe

That your heart can no longer live

Without real love!

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Author, National and International Speaker.  His book Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s column.