Beauty Born From Tragedy Born From Beauty

By, Michele Zehr


I’m going to be frank. The last half of 2016 and beginning of 2017 were some of the most tumultuous times I’ve experienced in the past decade. Even if I were offered a “redo,” I’d refuse out of fear that everything might work out the same way, and I have no desire to re-experience any of it. I’ve been contemplating the nature of change and how it comes in the form of both something beautiful (birth of a baby) and tragic (losing someone you love), but regardless of the disguise “change” is wearing, it is a catalyst that always offers us the opportunity to grow into better versions of ourselves, which to me is “the point” of life.

As an exercise, I took an event in my life and asked—What happened before this moment that caused this moment to happen?—and when I followed this question repeatedly, I saw that “change” itself is a type of shapeshifter. It is cyclical in nature, and impactful events occur that at first might appear completely unrelated. Beauty is born from tragedy which is born from beauty, and for me the ultimate take away is this—even in times of hardship do not despair, as change is inevitable and we have absolutely no way of knowing what is going to happen, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope. Life is infinitely creative, so to believe any one of us can predict how things will unfold is nothing but a fallacy. To demonstrate my point here is an example from my own life that spans over a 21-year period.


On February 25, 1996, a baby girl was born. Her parents named her Hannah, and she was beautiful—a gift.


Fast forward 18 years to October 18, 2014, the day Hannah’s body was found on a vacant property in Albemarle County. She was last seen on September 13, 2014. I’m speaking of the highly-publicized murder of Hannah Graham, a UVA student living in Charlottesville, VA. I did not know her nor do I know her family, but this tragedy affected me on a deep emotional level as tragedy like this often does. At first, Hannah’s death appeared completely disconnected from my immediate experience of life, but that was about to change. Shockwaves moved through the community as this was the second time in five years a young woman had been abducted and violently murdered—Morgan Harrington being the first. Women in our community felt fearful and vulnerable, understandably.   


Acknowledging the collective fear, the local newspaper published an article about women’s self-defense classes. Because I teach women’s self-defense, I was interviewed for the article and the story ran on October 12, 2014, just six days before Hannah was found. The day after the article came out, I was contacted unexpectedly by a woman who read it; she chaired the planning committee for Quadruplicity, a regional conference for professional women, and she asked if I would be willing to present a workshop at the conference, scheduled for February 2015. I agreed and this seemingly “random act” opened doors in my life that I could never have imagined. Because of the impact my workshop made, I was invited to serve as the closing speaker for the entire conference in 2016. The opportunity to share my message of women’s empowerment in front of a crowd of 300 women led to new connections and relationships that today in 2017, some three years after Hannah Graham’s tragic death, are supporting my work of helping women and girls heal from the devastating effects of sexual and domestic violence. (See my non-profit’s website: for more information).

 The Takeaway

Everything is connected whether we see those connections or not, and each of us has made a profound impact on the lives of people we’ve never even met. Hannah Graham’s death impacted not only my work, but the lives of every woman who will attend my programs. I also know from experience that in our darkest hours—when it feels like our lives have crumbled into an unpredictable and chaotic mess—that held within our anxious uncertainty is the potential for beauty and love to emerge.

Recognizing the beauty is always a choice. So as we navigate 2017, a year that feels unlike any other, my greatest hope is that we come together in tragic moments but still ask ourselves what beauty is asking to emerge from the tragedy. How can we each transform difficult events into acts of peace, compassion, and love? We each have the power to make this choice just as we could equally choose to focus on fear and divisiveness. What we want our world to look like is directly related to the choices we each make. To choose love and compassion takes what I call “courageous vulnerability.” To be sure, I’m not saying it is easy.


At my retreats, I guide the women in observing Mother Nature, our greatest teacher on all things related to change. Death/birth, tragedy/beauty, love/pain—none of these are separate experiences, as demonstrated by the rotting tree that disintegrates into the Earth while also providing shelter and nutrients for new life to emerge. It doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge the death of the tree; it simply means we don’t stop there. We keep asking ourselves—What happened before this moment that caused this moment to happen?— and we’ll begin to reveal the miraculous dance of life, appreciating how the dead tree was at one time born because something else died and now, you can observe new life growing from the dead tree—beauty born from tragedy born from beauty. Once we can see this cycle, it empowers us to hope even in the face of adversity.  We have no control over anything except how we respond to life, which quite literally creates our reality. Do we want a world filled with hate or love? I choose love every single time, and I am inviting you to join me in creating that beautiful world in 2017.   

Michele Zehr, M.A., M.Ed., is the founder of We2 LLC: Women’s Experiential Empowerment. She custom-designs and facilitates empowerment workshops for a wide-range of professionals, offers one-on-one Soul Weaving coaching, teaches R.A.D. Self-Defense for Women, and gives Transformational Talks by invitation. To learn more about Michele’s other services, please visit her website at: or contact her via email at: or by phone at 434-218-2462.