Talking with Tragedy at the Seaside Diner

There are days where I need to believe that Tragedy is a human being. A living, breathing, fleshy individual. Wrinkled & Grey.

Yes, some days I want so badly for Tragedy to be an elderly man who wears a checkered newsboy cap and who is too proud to be aided by a walking cane. And he goes up and down the boardwalk of some seaside port, the mist of salt water curling around his glum face, as he grumbles about grandchildren that never visit anymore, not since his wife passed on at least. 

He does this ritualistic walking nearly every morning, no matter the temperature, before he settles into the Same Booth of the Same Seaside Diner he has given his quarters & nickels to since childhood. And Betsey is his waiter, though she has never stopped to hear the awe-inspiring stories that the man holds. He’s seen wars & great battles & a fair share of natural disasters, but Betsey will never know that. She just seems him as a tired, cranky old man who rarely ever tips. Tragedy takes his coffee, fresh or not, sipping slowly as he stares out the window at the children leap frogging over one another and then toppling into the waves.

And he breathes in deeply, forced to cut most cups of coffee short because a funeral requests his presence or news reports are already testifying to viewers that, Tragedy, is there at crime scene before he even knows where it took place. Standing off in the distance, hanging his head low until the next job calls. Wondering when he can retire. Wondering when the world won’t need him anymore.

On these days, when I convince myself that Tragedy is an aging man with faulty vision but his real teeth still intact, I am tempted to scour through the yellow pages and call every seaside diner until I find the one who tells me, “Yes, that man is a regular. He arrives here every morning at 9:30a.m.”

I’ll scuffle into sandals and sling the morning NY Times under my arm, stuff my purse with a few nostalgic pictures, and march right over to that seaside diner with every ounce of resentment percolating inside of me while Tragedy waits, unknowingly, for a refill on his coffee and for my arrival.

“We need to talk,” I’ll say, speaking before even fully sliding into the booth across from him. Before even seeing the wrinkles that surround Tragedy’s Sad Blue Eyes and the anguish already written upon his face.

He’ll just stare at me. Let out a slow chuckle. The saddest laugh I will ever hear. I know it already.

You think you are the first person to approach me with a newspaper? Get that outta my sight,” he’ll say.”You were going to open that damn paper up to page A6 or D1, doesn’t really matter because I am on every single page, and show me all the problems I have caused by being there. You people act like I take delight in my job, like I enjoy attending twelve funerals an hour and showing up at the bedsides of sick children. You people think I take vacations when I head over to places like Japan & Haiti to oversee the rubble and the devastation.

And then, then, you’ll pull some photo out from that bag of yours and tell me that I took someone away that you loved very much. And that wasn’t me kid. That wasn’t me.”

Anger will burn at my cheeks as I pull my tote closer to me, envisioning the photos of my Grandmother Laughing in the side compartment of the bag. I wanted Tragedy to be taken aback, not indifferent and all knowing.

His voice will crouch lower. Softer. Practically silent. “I don’t plot the sadness and cruelty of this world, I just show up because that’s my job. You try to imagine doing a job every single day where you know before you even stroll out the door in the morning that people won’t want you around, that no one is ever going to be happy to see you show up. I’ve seen the look on Joy’s face when I arrive at a good pool party. I’ve had my face slapped a couple of times by Happiness and that twin of hers, Elation, when I “ruined the party” and made everyone go home sobbing. You try being the bearer of the most awful, most terrible news, every single day and then you tell me how it feels to be attacked over your morning coffee.”

But I just don’t understand,” I’ll say, trying my best to keep composure. “You are absolutely everywhere and I don’t understand how the world can keep spinning and moving when Beautiful People pass away or a tornado kills hundreds. I don’t know how to move on after you show up. After I locate you in every sad photograph, looming over victims, or I can feel your presence around me like a shawl that I wish would just stay off of my shoulders. My head hurts just thinking about all the places you’ve been and the pain that comes with you.”

That’s not your job, kid,” he’ll say. “Your job may be to pray that I will disappear but it is not your job to try to understand why I am everywhere or to think about the places I have been in a day. I am the one who has to take all the sadness of the world onto my shoulders, not you. If you think it’s you then you better take a good hard look in the mirror and rearrange yourself because the world wants something different from you.

And if you cannot accept that then let me give you a job: Show up, after I have gone, and help people pick up the pieces and clear away the mess. My whole life would have been different if that had been my job. If I could just show up after the Tragedy came in and then really help people.”

He’ll stand to gather his coat from the booth beside him. “Listen kid, I have to head out. The job calls me at all hours.” He’ll say, placing two single dollar bills on the table beside him. “Remember my suggestion though. That’s a better job for you.”

He reaches the door, swinging it open as the bell on top rings to signal his departure.

Oh and one more thing,” he’ll say, stepping back through the door. “Take that picture you have in your bag and find a good frame for it. You don’t have to bother showing me, I already know she was beautiful. I should have said that first maybe.”

10 thoughts on “Talking with Tragedy at the Seaside Diner

  1. As always, this post is beautiful. You are creative and sincere without being corny. I also wanted to tell you that I loved your post about beauty mags. In HS I always got Teen Vogue and Seventeen, then as I got older I used some of the more “mature” one’s. About a year ago I decided that I would no longer buy ANY sort of beauty or women’s magazines, mostly because I realized that they are actually not “pro-woman” at all. The majority of them are full of ads that just tell you to spend money on expensive things, show you pictures that make you feel about your body, and give you advice on how to please men rather than please yourself. You are so socially aware so I am sure you know all of this, but they are just some of my own observations in my journey of giving up “women’s” magazines. On a similar note, have you ever seen this poem? It’s very moving.

    Hope all is well with you, love!

  2. I love you so much. Tragedy has been hanging around a lot lately and the job of piece-picker-upper has been rough with him looking over my shoulder. Gotta remember I’m doing a better job than him, though, and I guess that’s what counts.
    You have the valuable skill of knowing just what to say to keep Sorrow from the party, and how to coax Happiness back into the pool.
    Talented, talented girl.

  3. I love this so much because it’s true and real and it hurts. I remember reading the post about your grandmother back in the fall and how she inspired you to write and encouraged you to tell stories. She’s definitely done her part. This is beautiful. So beautiful. And I only hope that you and tragedy can work things out. You’re a strong girl.

  4. Wonderful story. It reminds me of The Book Thief, which is narrated by Death. Your ending kind of surprised me, but it is exactly true. It is not our job to question why tragedy takes people, it is our job to shower love upon those who are left. Thanks so much, Hannah.

  5. That was really awesome. Made me want to cry and smile at the same time. Its great to have such a thought provoking, inspiring friend 🙂

  6. this is my first time at your blog and i am blown away by this piece. it’s absolutely incredible. your words are such an encouragement, so refreshing in the midst of all the tragedy falling down around us. what a powerful reminder that we can’t change everything, but what we can change is more than enough.
    absolutely beautiful.

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