My niece will read most anything she can get her hands on. When she was 7 or so her father brought her home an edition of Andersen’s Fairy Tales – red hardcover with golden letters on the front. My guess is she read it within the week.
“Do you remember reading The Little Mermaid?” I asked her as we sat on the front porch this past Mother’s Day. I recently read it myself for the first time and wanted to see what she thought of it.
“Ugh, do I remember,” she said. My niece also has a tremendous gift of memory. “The ending was hard to take. I don’t like tragedy. I don’t know why people write them.”
I mumbled some reply about life being full of tragedies and the necessary pattern of death to make way for life. But I was unsatisfied with my answer and returned to the thought this morning.
Was it a tragedy? Ultimately? And why do people write heart-wrenching stories?
If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have told you I thought every story should have a happy ending. Every story should give hope, of course. Heaven is the ultimate end for those who believe, so let’s put happy endings everywhere. Happy, happy, happy.
But tragedies of a certain sort have strategy. Within the story we walk through stabbing, irreconcilable loss — painfully stabbing. They make our souls cry, “No, no! This should not be! This is not the way!” We beg the story to take it back. And there, in that experience of loss, there is exposed within the soul our innate hope that things should be different. A longing has been stirred.
“What if my greatest disappointments
or the aching of this life
is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?”
– Blessings, Laura Story
A greater thirst. Not just any longing, this is a longing that points to beyond — to higher things, eternal things, the things that really matter. With tragedy we can be called out of our love of temporal happy endings and spurred on in our chasing of Thee Happy Ending – God our Dwelling. In that sense tragedies are hope giving; they help us shake off the shadows and embrace the Reality.
At the end of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the steadfast, sacrificing love of the mer-girl is unrequited. The Prince chooses another for a bride and the Little Mermaid is called instead to witness and celebrate in their joy, which is death to her.
But she rises.
She takes on a form more holy then the one before. She is welcomed into a new realm of love for others and progresses on her journey to Eternal Life. She’s not there yet, but what was death to her mortal self turns out to be the Mermaid’s course to greater existence.
Heart-wrenching? Yes. A tragedy? To be sure. But ultimately? Well, no, if we believe the pursuit of God is of value.
God the better Prince has promised not to forsake those who are devoted to Him. When Heaven’s day comes we will find in God the acknowledgement, union, love, and wholeness we crave. We will not be disappointed in His delight in us. To the Happy Ending in Him, God says “Abundantly, yes!” And Tragedy of the good sort says “Then let us chase Him.”