Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018
Everyone experiences tragedy and trauma. They are unavoidable, no matter how blessed a person’s life is.
And everyone will suffer as a result. But most people recover and go on to lead relatively stable, happy lives. Others even transcend their traumas, inspired in some fashion to change how they live in order to help others.
How people manage to overcome life’s suffering is the subject of Evanston author Mark Miller’s powerful new book, “Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation,” published in February by Post Hill Press.
Mr. Miller is a Chicago journalist who has worked at Crain’s, the Sun-Times and the Tribune, where he launched Satisfaction magazine about retirement. After the magazine folded he continued writing about aging and retirement for Reuters and other news syndicates, and his articles have also appeared in AARP magazine and the New York Times.
In 2010 he published his first book, “The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work, and Living.”
“Jolt” grew out of his work on retirement. “I grew interested in midlife career transitions, of people reinventing themselves to serve a greater social purpose.”
He said he noticed a pattern. “Often some traumatic event triggered a change and made people re-evaluate their life.” Mr. Miller discovered there is a rigorous field of research in the psychology of “post-traumatic growth” and set out to find and profile such survivors.
The work resulted in “Surviving the Jolt,” a 2015 article for AARP magazine. “The piece got a good reception, but I felt I had only scratched the surface.” He spent the next two years doing further research and identifying the many first-person accounts for the new book.
These accounts are riveting. A New York couple whose 25-year-old son died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. A Detroit couple whose seven-year-old daughter was abducted and murdered on a family camping trip. A Chicago man burned almost to death in a freak on-the-job fire. A Detroit woman reduced almost to homelessness after her husband lost all their money. And many more.
The wonder is not that these stories abound: of course they do. As Mr. Miller says, “they were hiding in plain sight.” The wonder is that in each case, the people in his book not only survived but grew from their tragedies and found in them the impetus to achieve great change, to grant forgiveness, to start charitable organizations, and generally to make the world a better place.
“These people didn’t regain their old life, but they were able to start a new life,” he says. And for many, the new life was a blessing they could never have imagined without the jolt.
Of course, not everyone manages to pivot from tragedy to transcendence. But a surprising number of people do.
These are among the many profound lessons in “Jolt.”