On tragedy: There is a reason why, we just need to figure it out ourselves


When I was in high school, I wrote poetry, as many angst-filled teens do. Dark, depressing stuff, if I remember correctly. I’m sure it was pretty bad, and, thankfully, none has survived.

Maybe it was that obsession with dying that prompted my love for the poems of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), who wrote frequently about life and death. I memorized the first lines of the poem printed above and wondered, “who misses us when we’re gone?”

Now, much older, I know everyone — no matter how inconsequential you think your life — is missed. What I wrestle with today, instead, is the “why.” Why do bad things happen to good people?

This is not the subject I intended to write about this week. Too depressing. But there have been too many recent tragedies touching the lives of those who touch me. The wife of a man who has taught many years with my sister, diagnosed with cancer at Thanksgiving, gone by Christmas. A teacher in a nearby town killed in a car accident last week, and three young graduates from the same district died in another wreck the next day. A friend’s husband in ICU after a massive heart attack.

And yesterday came the news that Troy, Ohio, native Chris Raines, who was only 29, died in a crash Sunday night. He was an assistant professor of meat science at Penn State, an Extension meat specialist, who had built a national reputation through his use of blogging and online social media tools to share science-based information about our food. His work and conversations so skillfully bridged that farm/nonfarm gap, and focused on education.


It’s like we’re that young child who keeps doggedly asking, “but why?,” lamented Ohio farmer Charles Wildman in a blog post he wrote last year after the loss of a distant cousin in a traffic accident.

“By asking, ‘Why?’ I am saying ‘Life should have meaning,'” Wildman wrote. “By this simple reflex question, I am rejecting the idea of a world that is created by random chance…

“When I ask ‘Why?’ I am declaring from my inmost being that life has meaning, therefore it was created with a purpose.”

The ripples one’s life creates keep going, beyond our wildest imagination, Wildman adds.

He’s right. I believe no one touches my life by chance, so it’s my job to figure out what I’m going to do with that encounter, with that ripple. What did I learn, how did I grow, and now, what do I do?

Oh, we all use the expression, “It sure puts things in perspective,” when we talk about a seemingly senseless death, and we mouth platitudes about “remembering what’s really important.” Then, a day later, or a week later, we slide back into our self-possessed work or lives without learning or changing a darn thing. We’ve ignored the answer to our “why.”

“If there’s one thing Chris would want us all to do, it would be to ‘seize the day,'” writes Jesse Bussard, who met Chris during her days at Penn State.

Doesn’t matter if you knew Chris or not (I didn’t), but it’s a “why” worth grabbing. Carpe Diem, or seize the day. The Latin translation for “carpe” in this sense not only means “seize”, but also “make use of.” Make use of the day.

This morning, an early morning check of my social media Facebook network found this post from an old friend, Shelly: “Look for ways to be a blessing to others today…”

Exactly what I needed to remember. A way to continue my “why.”

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
— Emily Dickinson

By Susan Crowell


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  1. Beautiful post! Thank you so much for putting your thoughts into words. I feel very much the same way–we all have a purpose and, even though I do not believe God caused Chris to die in the car wreck, He did create Chris. Through Chris, He touched many people’s lives and we need to take the time to figure out “why” and then act on that! I appreciate the reminder and the encouragement to find our personal “why!”

  2. Really enjoyed reading your post, especially withthe poetry. I still write poems when I am inspired to do so. Some things just need to be captured that way.

    I din’t know Chris either, but his death sure sparked a lot of Facebook comments, so I know he was an inspiration to many and my knot knowing him is my loss.

    Like the ending poem though each of us is given a path with those we touch. We can make the day better or worse, but if we miss an opportunity to make it better, then we are making it worse.


  3. Great column.

    Through some loss in my own personal life, I have met others dealing with the same. I am amazed by the ability people have to ‘rise out of the ashes’ and not only live again, live more meaningful, fulfilled lives despite devastation. It always involves moving beyond your own pain and needs and helping others.

  4. thank you. My heart has been heavy for what others are going through this beautiful season. A friend died this week of a heart attack at 51 yrs old another friend’s husband hospice has been called as he goes through his last days with cancer. I do understand your why but i hold tight to my believe in my maker.


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