The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy. -Alfred North Whitehead

Living with a chronic illness gives most people a stronger sense of wisdom, maturity, and ability to deal with situations. I have always felt a little older than my peers, and I have always been able to deal with difficult obstacles that may seem like the end of the world to most, but are only a small hill compared to the mountain of difficulty I’ve dealt with in the past. When you’re living your life knowing it will very probably not reach 80, you try to squeeze in more, appreciate more, and you are able to adjust to that life. But before we jump to conclusions, what defines a tragedy? 

My Apple Dictionary defines tragedy as: “an event causing great sufferingdestructionand distress, such as aserious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe” Does CF cause great suffering at times? Yes. I will not say on some days I don’t feel physical pain with this disease. In times of sickness, you could say that many have suffered in the hospital. The dictionary includes in it’s definition of the word “suffer”: “ to be affected by or subject to (an illness or ailment) ” So yes, we “suffer” from CF. Though, when I think of suffering, I think of crying, sadness, and an overall lack of happiness. But yet I still smile. Can you still smile during a tragedy? I think if no one was able to smile when faced with something tragic, the world would be a very sad place. 

Tragedy is also defined as causing distress. This is a truth of living with a chronic illness. Though I try to exhibit the most positive attitude in dealing with my illness, it does cause me distress. I worry about the future more than I should, I get angry when I have to make time for treatments at times, I get discouraged when people can’t understand my outlook (though why should they when they haven’t had my experience), I am afraid every time I catch a cold. Cystic fibrosis causes my body distress as well. Though I can’t say my disease has progressed to the point where I am in pain every day, I feel it in my weakened, fatigued body at the end, middle, or even beginning of the day. I have been sick enough to wince every time I cough, the force threatening my whole body, and the threat of feeling that pain is enough to make me want to take care of myself. 

Then there is the destruction that is part of tragedy. People die from cystic fibrosis. It is relentless, and it kills those way before they have experienced what most would hope to before they die. There is nothing easy about seeing someone with CF pass away. Nothing will ever make that easy. And for the families of those with CF, that is even harder. It seems to always be considered a tragedy when someone passes before the age of 70 or 80. The median age of survival for CF is around 36. To most, living only until you are 30, 40, or 50 is a tragedy. 

But the other definition of a tragedy, in relation to plays, is that which has an unhappy ending. I hope, in the way I have lived my life, my ending will not be unhappy. All life must end, but the accomplishments, joys, and successes before the end of a life are what matters. In fact, I hope that the majority of events in my life are happy. Though the end of a CF life is extremely difficult, and though all those affected by the death of a loved one experience great grief, the life of that deceased person is beautiful and is to be celebrated. But tragedy does not have to be all unhappiness as stated previously. However, there are still many aspects of CF that are, indeed, tragic. Not being able to cure a disease that kills is tragic. Period.

The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy. -Alfred North Whitehead

So I think I have illustrated that CF is, by definition, a tragedy. My youth was touched by a tragedy, though I would say my life was stroked with only the index finger of tragedy, because there are many things more difficult than my tragedy which may have a more profound effect on a life. Perhaps I can say I was embraced with tragedy. After all, I survived, and I can still smile every day. But in the end, it is more of a tragedy than what many have experienced by my age. Living with, and fighting with, a life-threatening illness has added years to the way I look at life. My age says I am in my youth, but my experience says otherwise. But I am still young, there are many CFers my age who have gone through so much more than I have, who have not been as lucky with the randomness of cystic fibrosis, and who probably see life in an even different light than I do. In the end, depending on what we live with, we learn at different ages, whether they are 10, 20 or 80… how to live. We escape the innocence of our youths and step into a wisdom that no other can find until their lives are touched by the sweet finger of tragedy.