“Tragedy is more important than love. Out of all human events, it is tragedy alone that brings people out of their own petty desires and into awareness of other humans’ suffering. Tragedy occurs in human lives so that we will learn to reach out and comfort others.”
–C. S. Lewis
Tragedy is both a terrible and a powerful thing. It has the power to bring us together. It has the power to make us think and care for those beyond the Mary Washington bubble. And tragedy has the power to create something positive out of something heartbreaking.
Some people knew Morgan Dana Harrington from a small high school in rural Southwest Virginia. Others knew her from Virginia Tech. Many didn’t know her at all. But everyone who looked at the poster of the smiling and kind 20-year-old and heard the story of her disappearance was touched.
College students all across the country volunteered their time to pass out posters and sort through tips after she disappeared last October. People banded together and donated money. Maybe because Morgan felt like someone we all knew. It didn’t matter that she didn’t go to Mary Washington. We identified with her. She was one of us.
So when police announced last Tuesday that they had found Morgan in a field near Charlottesville, we were all affected. The outpouring of support on Facebook shows the solidarity that comes after something terrible.
This shows proof that there is more good in the world than bad. The support and love of thousands shines a light that far dispels the darkness of the horrors of whoever would do something so terrible. The heartbreaking story of Morgan Harrington shows that we are all connected. It is ironic, though, that it often takes a tragedy to serve as a reminder.
Psychologists might say that having positive emotions in the wake of negative events makes us resilient and helps us cope. Plato and Aristotle characterized tragedy within pathos, or suffering that makes us feel sympathy and compassion. For C. S. Lewis, tragic events teach us how to rely on each other.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragedy to pull us out of our isolated day-to-day routines, to make us pull the headphones out of our ears and take our hands out of our pockets to see what is all around us. In the face of unspeakable events like the Virginia Tech massacre, we put aside our rivalries and realize that we are far more alike than we are different. Tragedies can bring out the best in us. Tragedies remind us that life is short.
Morgan had a saying that she said to her friends and her family. It was her philosophy that serves as a message of love and ultimately of hope. The abbreviation—“2.4.1”—has spread farther than she probably could have imagined possible. It is a message we can all take to heart: “I love you too much, forever, and one more time.”