Trying to Understand the Universe Through a Puzzle Piece: L’Engle on Understanding Tragedy

It’s been a tough week. I feel like I keep turning on the news to see more bad news (like the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in Texas this morning). When it seems like there’s no end to tragedy in the world, I’m reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s The Moon by Night–specifically by Vicky’s conversation with Uncle Douglas after seeing a play about Anne Frank. Vicky can’t imagine how a loving God could have let the Holocaust happen. Uncle Douglas says he thinks of the universe (and all its tragedies and injustices) like a jigsaw puzzle:

“You know those puzzles with hundreds of tiny pieces? You take one of those pieces all by itself and it doesn’t make sense, does it?…we find it hard to realize that there is a completed puzzle….We find it almost impossible to think about infinity, much less comprehend it. But life only makes sense if you see it in infinite terms. If the one piece of the puzzle that is this life were all, then everything would be horrible and unfair…But there are all the other pieces, too, the pieces that make up the whole picture.”

I love that reminder that when we think about tragedy, we’re thinking about the universe in a very limited way. There is a lot of unfairness and destruction–but that’s a small part of what makes up the whole. It’s not the whole picture on its own. That doesn’t mean to say we can’t feel sad about terrible events, but I do like reminding myself that the world isn’t just terrible events. Even when it feels like that’s all I hear about.


Marathon Monday, 2013: We Always Come Together

I love the marathon.

Cheering at the 2012 marathon.

Cheering at the 2012 marathon.

I’ve been a Bostonian for the last six-and-a-half years, and nothing (except for fall, maybe) makes me feel like a Bostonian quite like the Boston Marathon. Even if you’re not a runner or an athlete, it’s hard not to get swept up in the joy and enthusiasm of the day. Unlike other sporting events, at the marathon you can cheer for everyone–from the fastest elite runners to the first-time marathoners to the charity teams to the military groups walking in full gear. Last year, I wrote a little about why I love the marathon so much and why it makes me feel so connected to the community.

Usually I’d be out on Beacon Street, cheering for runners in the Brookline area (just around mile 23/24). This year, I was on my way back from visiting family when I heard about the attack. It felt so personal–I used to live directly behind where the second blast occurred and walked around Boylston Street all the time. How could someone attack the marathon, an event that brings so many people together?

Fortunately, in the midst of this tragedy there are so many reports of people helping other people. Of first responders and volunteers rushing in to help the victims. Of runners having finished the race and, after that kind of feat, going to give blood.  Of strangers offering up their homes to people without a place to stay. And this is why I love the marathon–because the people who run and volunteer and cheer are all in it for each other. It’s not about winning or supporting just one person. You’re out there with everyone and for everyone. It’s a relief to remember that in the face of this tragedy.

I’m glad to report that, so far, all I know are safe and sound, but my heart is with people who continue to feel the damages of yesterday. And rereading “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass, a poem that feels so appropriate during times like these.

Hoping all you readers are doing okay.