Life During a Pandemic: Comedy or Tragedy?


As the end of the 2019-2020 school year neared, Ms. Bingham asked my English class to watch the movie Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell. The movie is about a man named Harold Crick who hears a voice in his head; not just a voice but rather a narrator, one that predicts his future. The situation is bizarre for sure, but becomes terrifying when Crick hears that he is facing imminent death. As a result, our protagonist reaches out for help to an English university professor called Professor Hilbert. Together, they set out on a quest to discover if Crick is a character in a Comedy or a Tragedy (I’ll omit the end so the entire production isn’t ruined). 

Afterwards, Ms. Bingham posed the question: “Are our lives, during this pandemic, more of a comedy or a tragedy?” At first, I was very dismissive of this pondering, convinced that reality could not be boiled down so generally into the neat boxes of comedy and tragedy. However, the question stuck with me throughout this major historical event, and I now realize that there was more value in it than I originally gave it credit for. I’ve spent a lot of time in deep reflection, and have landed on an answer I think is worth sharing. 

We are living in a tragedy. Yes, this answer might seem very obvious, but I did not pick tragedy for its usual element, that is, the main character’s impending and inevitable doom. Instead, I decided that we are living in a tragedy, because of the process of painful catharsis humanity is undergoing. The idea of catharsis, to purge and release repressed emotions in order to bring relief, is very common in tragedies and has never been as pertinent as it is now. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to stay at home, are going through a time of reflection, of meditation, a period of unwanted, but valuable, catharsis. We finally have the time to look at ourselves and reflect on who we are compared with who we want to be. This is the time for us to set in stone unwavering morals and principles, to decide who we truly are, and who we aim to become. This period of catharsis will teach us to find hope in the middle of despair and to cherish the smallest moments with those we love the most. Within the context of a greater society, this pivotal moment in history must and will come as the trigger for mass revolt against universal, systemic failures. The virus has shown the world how much inequality there truly is, be it social, economic, or racial, and how quickly that can become a matter of life and death. It has shown us that the only way to survive global trauma, in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked worldwide havoc, is to stay united, and to act in accordance with the greater good of the population, putting ourselves aside for once. 

I– we– are the only possible catalysts for change, and that makes me terrified, but it also gives me hope. Hope that is fueled by the thousands who refuse to remain silent, hope that is fueled by all those that demand change despite the tough times. That is what tragedies are all about: an intense period of suffering and pain, but a period that teaches us a lesson, that changes us, so that we, the characters in this tragedy we call life, can rise stronger and louder than ever.