Life is a Tragedy Filled With Joy


As a City College student, I took a contemporary American literature class. Each student devoted himself to one writer for the semester. I chose Bernard Malamud, not knowing at the time that he was a graduate of CCNY or that I would have a chance to meet him that year.

Malamud attracted me much the way Steinbeck did, namely, his vision of society and a dedication to a better world. Hemingway’s pugnaciousness, his “manliness” held little appeal to me then or now. Steinbeck, I believe, had deficiencies as a writer, while Malamud seems to me to be more durable.

I cannot remember where I read this line of his but it has stayed with me since: Life is a tragedy filled with joy. This phrase has resurfaced for me as I think about my mother’s death a day before her 83rd birthday.

What brought this home to me was my father who said, not long after she died, that he has decided to go on living. He said this not with resignation but anticipation. The pain of her loss is real but life is sweet nevertheless.

Tragedy cannot be avoided. Either we are pulled under by it or savor life in spite of or perhaps because of it. I don’t know if it is possible to choose how we respond to such losses. But I do know that watching my father move from tears to laughter is one of the most important lessons he has ever taught me. Malamud only captured in words what my father demonstrated. Life is, indeed, a tragedy filled with joy.

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One thought on “Life is a Tragedy Filled With Joy

  1. Beautiful quote.. I have found myself thinking a lot lately about how pain fits into our lives. We can try to avoid it, and seek blissed out feelings all the time, but we loose something essential about ourselves when we do.

    When my fiance lost his grandfather recently, it was his first experience with the death of a loved one. He said he didn’t feel anything, and moreover that he felt wrong for not feeling anything. I knew that feeling of numbness that he was referring to and assured him that he shouldn’t feel guilty, that it was normal. But he knew he was supposed to be grieving. He didn’t feel right. He WANTED to feel the pain. And that in and of itself is something noteworthy. Pain can be unpleasant but the lack of pain can be even worse. Pain gives us information about our inner lives, and when that is thrown off, we can find ourselves confused about our own selves. When pain is contextually appropriate it can be satisfying and healing. So I’m all about embracing the pain, feeling it, and then letting it go when you can.

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