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The Unbearable Tragedy of Being

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It is 3 am and I am awake and standing in my kitchen. I went to bed hours ago but grief kept singeing the edges of my sleep. I could not rest.

I have been unable to stop thinking about the sudden and shocking death of young Bre Payton, the popular writer at The Federalist who passed unexpectedly yesterday at the tender age of 26. Or rather, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her parents. I haven’t been able to stop thinking of the depths of their grief right now; of how they will wake up from whatever fitful sleep they might manage to fall into and for that brief moment forget she is gone; of how they will have to relive the loss every time they wake up until the body and the mind catch up to reality. I want to pray for them…I’m trying to pray for them. But I just don’t know how.


I’ve been reading condolences for Bre non-stop since the news, and without exception they have all included the fact that she was a devout Christian and how that fact brings a small measure of comfort. I’m a Christian too and most of the time I get the point. Tonight (this morning) I can’t grasp it. Sometimes - like right now - I look to the tragedy all around me and think about how stupid the idea of God seems.

This is where I must make a confession: I want to not believe in God. I’ve been struggling. I have the mechanics of religion but it has been too long since I’ve felt the spirit that is supposed to come with it. It would be easier to simply not believe. I want to not believe.

God seems like an insane idea. It makes no sense, at least not to the modern mind.

Is it just but a paltry comfort? The “crutch” that cranky atheists always accuse us of using instead of dealing with reality?

I am reminded in the middle of this lonely, chilly California night that tragedy is all around us, every day. My heart is heavy with the thought of what time I may or may not have with my own children. I am besieged with grief even though it hasn’t yet crossed my own doorstep. If all we have is what we can see, and all that is “real” ends with our last breath how in the hell are any of us even able to walk around and function with any type of normality on any given day? We are all mere moments from being lost or losing someone we love. That idea alone should be enough to render every last one of us frozen in fear to the point of insanity.


And yet, we go on. We grieve, we eulogize, we remember, we honor…and we go on. How?

Dr. Jordan Peterson frequently talks about this conundrum in lectures and interviews. He often asks the question, “How do we live in the face of the undeniable tragedy of life?”. In other words, life is pain. Life is tragedy. Life means living close to death every single day, knowing that every single person you love will eventually die. We should all be flattened daily by what we know about the fleeting nature of living and the random, unexpected nature of tragedy.

Yet, we live. We function. We build. We create. We love. We go on.


This is where my doubt meets my reality. When I ponder Peterson’s words, I see that there is no physical reason for us all to still be carrying on in the face of this unbearable tragedy of being. Something else must hold us together, something unseen that can operate even without our acknowledgement.  

Scientists think they have discovered the energy that cannot be seen or measured but somehow seems to glue together every atom in the universe. They call it “dark matter”, and it holds all things together against impossible odds, in impossible environments.

To me, that is God. As crazy as the idea is of an invisible Creator who made a universe and put each one of us in it, I find it even crazier to think that we are all just holding it together day-to-day by sheer willpower. There is an inexplicable force that holds our sanity in place and continually patches up the thin fabric of our reality. There is something that allows us to go on living and even thriving even after deep loss; even in deep grief. There is something that allows us to push the reality of our ultimate demise to the back of our psyche and to get on with the daily grind of living.


That is the Dark Matter of our human spirit. That is God.

So here I am, trying my best not to believe in God but being drawn back towards Him even as I angrily mourn the tragic loss of a young woman I barely knew. The cynic might say I’m just grasping for naive comfort but I know that is an immature way to look at it. I know that despite this soul-crushing loss, Bre’s parents will still move forward with living, albeit at a much different pace. I know that despite wars and domestic violence, disasters both manmade and natural that all of us who live through those things will go on living until we live no more. We are pulled irresistibly forward though we know instinctively that much terror and tragedy lies ahead. We march on, even joyfully at times because the Dark Matter that holds all things together continually tethers us to this one truth - There is still and always will be so much to live for. The mere thought carries so much power that it constantly overrides this unbearable tragedy of being.

Some might call that hope.

Some might call it wishful thinking.

I call it God.

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