Harold Kushner is Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, where he resides. He has been honored by the Christophers, a Roman Catholic organization, as one of the 50 people who have made the world a better place in the last half century, and by Religion in American Life as the clergyman of the year in 1999. He is the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People and eight other books.
Kushner has a knack for identifying universal life challenges and showing his readers how to deal with them in meaningful ways. He has hit the jackpot again with this edifying book about working with disappointments and becoming more resilient individuals.
Moses is a good model for us to follow, Kushner suggests. We are used to thinking about this man as a towering figure of majesty and competence. After all, he did lead the people of Israel out of slavery, split the Red Sea, and climbed Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law from God. But Moses, the man of accomplishment, also knew frustration and failure in his public life. The people he led through the wilderness were ungrateful nearly every step of the way, and he had to deal with their constant criticism of his leadership. Thanks to his faith in God, he was not defeated by his many disappointments.
Kushner makes many good points about how to deal with disappointment whether they arrive through divorce, infertility, illness, losing a job, or feeling that the dreams of our youth have not come to fruition. "Perhaps failure and disappointment can teach us that we may fail at one thing, we may fail at several things, but that does not mean that we are failures as people." One of the ways to deal with disappointment is to not let it get the better of us. When it overtakes our consciousness, we can bring to mind others who have demonstrated resilience in the face of hardship.
"I remember reading about a man who would visit his wife in a nursing home every day. The woman suffered from Alzheimer's disease and could not recognize him. People asked him, 'Why do you keep going when she doesn't even know who you are?' He would answer, 'Because I know who I am.' "
This man perfectly illustrates the author's point that what happens to us, no matter how painful or unfair, is less important than what we make of this disappointment. Many people blame God for the setbacks and blows in their lives. Kushner recommends another way of looking at this:
"It may be that instead of giving us a friendly world that would never challenge us and therefore never make us strong, God gave us a world that would invariably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience."
Think about all the courageous souls you have known or read about or seen in movies who have bounced back from suffering, pain, scars, and disappointments. The author quotes Sister Joan Chittister in her memoir where she writes about struggle and concludes "No one comes out of the struggle, out of suffering the same person they were when they went in. Some come out worse. Others come out stronger and wiser."
In chapters on new dreams, humility, responsibility. and happy endings, Kushner enables us to see that it is possible to overcome life's difficulties and disappointments.