There’s a new book out called The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks and Imperfections by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD. I read about it recently, and made a mental note to put it on my must-read list. But the title and summary on the author’s website came to mind again as I watched the news this week on the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attack.
Dr. Rosenthal is talking about both personal tragedy and national trauma, drawing from his childhood in apartheid-era South Africa, as well as from his long recovery after suffering a violent attack by a stranger, and from his career as a psychiatrist. He argues that true innovation, emotional resilience, wisdom, and dignity can only come from confronting and understanding the adversity we have experienced. His arguments agree with my own study of meditation, which teaches you to live in the moment and accept both laughter and tears, rather than bury your emotions.
I can’t help but remember how 9-11, that shared American tragedy, changed all of us – and wonder how many have just buried those memories since then. This year’s 12th anniversary reminded me how alive it still burns in my mind and emotions. While I experienced the terrorist attack from San Francisco, where I was living with my late husband Tim Robinson, I also felt the pain as a long-time New Yorker. We watched the TV in horror and became frantic about our friends at work in Manhattan. It was the city where we met and fell in love.
Only a little over two years later I suffered the pain of losing my beloved husband and soul mate following cancer surgery – and returned to New York to heal. Only after I moved back to my old Brooklyn neighborhood just south of Prospect Park did I really feel the pain of 9-11 totally full force, talking to friends and neighbors who had witnessed the fall of the towers first-hand. The victims were their neighbors, relatives and friends. The tragedy bonded New Yorkers together. And I learned it was so much harder to forget the terrorist act when I was confronted by the gaping hole in the skyline every time I crossed the bridge.
Yes, I was thankful for that lesson in the healing power of pain, but only if you accept it, learn from it and, yes, never forget. I came back to Michigan last summer, worried about the health of my oldest brother, Gilbert. He bravely battled AML leukemia for a year before succumbing the last day of July, yet I am so grateful for the last year of celebrations and laughter, and even the tears of a long goodbye.
For more information on the book A Gift of Adversity, visit Dr. Rosenthal’s website at http://www.normanrosenthal.com/blog/book/gift-adversity/
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s death on Friday brought back memories of a city on the brink. I was a young freelance writer living on Avenue A in the tough, drug-infested East Village when Koch was elected Mayor in 1977. Urban decay was destroying neighborhoods and crime was rampant. I loved New York even in its worst days, but took self-defense classes and karate to feel safe in the subways after dark. New York was trying to come back from a brush with bankruptcy in 1975 that is best encapsulated by a Daily News headline that read “Ford to City: “Drop Dead.” Mayor Abe Beame, an accountant by training, lacked the charisma to rally a city awash in debt. Not so Ed Koch.
“I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers,” he said upon taking office. “I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.” Koch, a Democrat, was a master showman, as much at home on the city streets as he was in the halls of power.
In its obit, The New York Times proclaimed Koch “parlayed shrewd political instincts and plenty of chutzpa into three tumultuous terms as Mayor of New York with all the tenacity, zest and combativeness that personified his city of golden dreams.” He was arguably the most colorful mayor since Fiorello H. La Guardia nyti.ms/14zLmAV .
As the Times obit pointed out, historians give the mayor’s three terms mixed reviews, but everyone agrees he came in like a bull. Said the Times, “Confronted with the deficits and the constraints of the city’s brush with bankruptcy in 1975, he held down spending, subdued the municipal unions, restored the city’s creditworthiness, revived a moribund capital budget, began work on a long-neglected bridges and streets, cut antipoverty programs and tried to reduce the friction between Manhattan and the more traditional other boroughs.” He went on to steadily improve the city’s finances in his second term.
The glory days didn’t last forever, and it took another tough Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, to revive New York from the excesses of the junk bond era, and current Mayor Bloomberg to keep it on track after the 2008 Wall Street crash, but Koch left his mark on some incredible years that I’ll always treasure.