Lessons in Tragedy-Part 1

I don’t know what triggered the memory. I was visiting my parents’ house in Texas, wallowing in a heap of self-pity and pining for my children who were on the beaches of South Carolina with their father, hunting for seashells, giggling as the waves tickled their toes.

Everywhere I turned I was reminded of my three (I have a boy and two girls). I’d see a picture of M (my youngest daughter) as a toddler—pigtails and smocked dress, her dark brown eyes round with innocence—or pass my son’s favorite hamburger joint on the way to the bookstore he loved to visit and then I’d collapse into tears.  Even the song of the mourning doves perched up in the oak trees outside my parents’ home sent me longing for L (my middle daughter) who had just discovered before I left that they were mourning doves and not morning doves. “It’s because they sound like they’re crying!” she squealed, delighted with herself for having solved a great mystery. Each time I stepped outside I’d hear the mourning doves and tear up. I was mourning, too.

I went to sleep that night with the words of one of my favorite authors, Dorothy L. Sayers, pulsing through my mind. “A human being must have occupation if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.” I knew that something needed to change if I was not to become a nuisance to the world.  I needed occupation-something to take my mind off of my divorce and my grief and missing my children. I’d become like a dog licking her wounds, and wounds that are constantly irritated cannot heal.

The next morning I was in the living room, sipping coffee, when a memory popped into my mind.  I must have seen a picture or heard something that awakened it, but for the life of me I don’t know what it was. I remembered as a young girl crawling into my grandparents’ closet and discovering a box of letters and other memorabilia. I couldn’t remember what the letters were or anything I’d found that day, I just remembered spending an entire rainy afternoon, hidden away, perusing the treasure and fantasizing about what life must have been like back then, what my grandparents were like when they were young. It all seemed so romantic.

I mentioned the memory to my father and then said apathetically, as though it was only a pipe dream, “I wish we still had that box.”

“I have the box,” he said matter-of-factly, and before I knew it he handed me the old box with its tattered letters-dozens and dozens of letters from my grandfather to my grandmother during the Second World War.  Letters from Normandy, Luxembourg, Nuremberg. Letters of love and of hope.

I immediately delved into the letters. It didn’t take me long to realize how little I knew about my grandparents. I knew even less about the Second World War and the daily lives of civilians during that time.  I knew it was a time of tremendous suffering and uncertainty, but I had only a shallow understanding of it all.

I began reading everything I could get my hands on to understand what life was like for people during that chaotic time. I was certain that their response to suffering, grief and injustice would help me make sense of my own pain. I needed to know how they endured and triumphed over such tragedy . Where had they found the courage? How did they not sink under the weight of despair?

**I will post more on this topic over the next week or two. I hope you’ll check back. And, please, leave me your thoughts.

Author: Rebekah Durham

Rebekah Durham lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her three children.  She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has written for numerous publications. She is an avid reader and in particular an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy L. Sayers (in no certain order). She'd also blindly follow Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's famous spinster sleuth) anywhere she wanted to go.

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