The writers group I attend, although not nearly often enough, picked the word tragedy as a story prompt this week.
When I saw it I said, "Easy," sure most of my stories have something tragic in them. I started ticking them off in my mind, I could use Five Little Fingers, which was a half poem about a child lost in a terror attack, or I could use Eamon's Monument which told the story of a husband lost at sea, or I could use Christina's Story which was a double tragedy dealing with a young woman who was attacked and the death of the man who came to her aid. Realistically I could have made a case for most of my stories to date and to do that would be pure lazy in my eyes.
I decided to find out what tragedy really was.
Did you know the word is derived from the Greek word Goat?? Me either. Apparently there is no explanation for the link between goats and sadness, but on considering it, they do have mournful faces.
So what does the word mean? A tragedy is an event causing great suffering, destruction and distress, such as a serious accident, crime or natural catastrophe. Can’t argue with that.
It also means, a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the death of the main character. Given that definition a few of my stories are classic tragedies, and not just because of the terrible writing.
So there we have it, that is tragedy, but what is its essence? That required a little thought so I settled down with a coffee and pondered.
Recently I had an interesting conversation with a very attuned person about the need for hardship in a life. I must admit, I believe a little bit of strife is good for the soul, it’s the teacher of lessons, it makes us value the good times and it allows us to survive where we thought we should not. I think we're too quick to bemoan the small obstacles life throws in our way and it seems to me the more privileged we are, the greater we complain. In my mind I could hear an expensive top, shrunk in the wash, described as a tragedy, or a missed airplane, or a flat tyre on the motorway. Are we too quick to label our lives catastrophes when the word was meant for so much more?
How can our designer disaster compare with the sinking of the Titanic?
In what way does a delayed journey put us on par with the millions of solders who never came home?
Never will a deflated wheel parallel the anguish caused by 9/11 or Hillsborough or The St Stephens Day Tidal Wave.
It’s time to use a new word for our troubles, one more suitable to their scale. You know, the next time I’m tempted to describe something in my life as a tragedy, I think I should pause and ask myself, am I just being a goat?