I recently read “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. The book discusses how our assumptions about strengths and weaknesses are sometimes wrong.
In the middle of the book, Gladwell writes about people who have endured trauma, and in particular, people who endure the loss of a parent while they are children. In the vast majority of cases, losing a parent does not bode well. Those children are less likely to complete their educations and more likely to land in prison. The asterisk is that a small percentage of these people become far more daring and courageous than usual. He points to U.S. presidents, who are more likely to have had an absent parent than the general population.
Gladwell focuses on a doctor who helped cure childhood leukemia in the 1950s and ’60s. The doctor grew up without his father, and his mother was nearly always out working. This man had a very difficult childhood, but that seems to have allowed him to take on the work of curing cancer in these children. Most doctors and nurses lasted only a few weeks or months in that ward of the hospital because, at the time, there was no treatment. Children who came in with leukemia inevitably died after a lot of profuse bleeding. This doctor seemed better able to cope with working in that environment and was willing to try unconventional, and somewhat inhumane, treatments. People around him said he lacked emotion, but his thought process was “I’ve been through worse.”
These chapters inevitably made me think about my own life and many of the families I know who have lost a baby. I know that every single one of those families would give back whatever wisdom they have gained to spend even one day with that missing child. And I think a lot of those families would brush aside this notion of strength and say that they are merely sadder and more anxious that some other terrible thing might happen (because these things do happen to people like us).
But before I make assumptions for you, what do you think? Chime in, please!
Six years out, I would say that loss has made me more fearless. I do worry about Greg and the kids more because losing them doesn’t seem nearly as abstract as I would like it to. But I worry a lot less about appearing to be crazy. There’s that question: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? I ask myself that a lot. When I have an idea, I try to think big. Whatever happens — failure or public humiliation — it will be nothing compared to what I have already gone through. And if I look crazy, well, I am a little crazy after what I’ve been through, and that’s okay.