In the Midst of Tragedy

There are still hundreds of people missing from the terrible ferry boat incident last week.

Thousands and millions of people are still glued to the news and reeling from the roller coaster of emotions. Hope for survivors, sorrow for the lives lost, frustration about the obstacles to rescuing people and finding answers. Many are searching for someone to blame. Something to give this senseless loss meaning.

Hope has waned into grief, anger, frustration, confusion, and regret.

To be honest, I often find myself numb and detached in the face of such tragedies.

When 9/11 happened I was in ninth grade, and, I’m a little ashamed to admit, I was baffled by the emotions of the people around me. I still remember the chaos in the hallway at school, the shocked looks on people’s face, watching the planes and the smoking buildings on TV during class. I didn’t understand why everyone felt so afraid and upset. I didn’t feel much of anything.

It was a terrible tragedy, of course, but I couldn’t feel its impact on me. And I couldn’t see the benefit of investing my emotions in it.

With this incident, the tragedy dawned on me slowly.

I heard vaguely of a boat accident, and assumed at first it related to North Korea. But then I realized that no, it was a horrible accident that had claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people, the majority of them high school students.

This time, I made a conscious choice not to distance myself. Even though I knew no one directly affected. Even though my safety was in no way endangered by it. I read numerous news articles. I watched Korean news broadcasts with my roommate. I listened to various people’s reactions and theories.

And finally, I let myself empathize.

With the father who texted his daughter, telling her to maybe try to go outside (even though she had been instructed over the loudspeakers to stay still). She replied that the boat was too tilted. She couldn’t.

With the 25-year-old girl who was directing the ship at the time of the accident. Her sixth month on the job. In handcuffs now and sobbing uncontrollably, blaming herself for the deaths of hundreds of people.

With the 35-year-old high school teacher who stayed on the ship to try to help his students escape. Who never made it out himself. I cried, imagining myself in his position. My students drive me crazy sometimes, but how could I ever bear to leave a single one of them behind?

It’s hard to know how to pray at such times.

Yesterday was Easter.

A day on which we celebrate victory over death and freedom from fear. A day that speaks of eternal hope.

I find myself praying that hope over all the families, all the people affected by this tragedy. Praying that they will find a way to forgive themselves for the mistakes they made, for the things they wish they could have done differently. Praying that parents throughout Korea will be awakened to new and deeper love for their children. Praying that healing will come. The kind of healing Jesus died on that cross to bring.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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