“Facing adversity, building resilience, finding joy.” That is the subtitle of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B. I’m about to download it to my kindle. You likely have heard her story – one of the most successful business people in America faces tragedy when her husband suddenly dies while they are on vacation. Resilience in the face of adversity is not a new tutorial. The lesson is as old as Judaism. But it is a message that we need to hear often, with great repetition, until the truth of our own resilience becomes the story of our lives.
We all know a person, like Sandberg, who has overcome a great struggle or tragedy. I know a lawyer whose client was involved in racketeering - so the FBI wrongfully arrested the attorney as well as the mobster. There’s a client who endured a physically abusive marriage and escaped with her child to save their lives. Or in the Torah, there is the story of Aaron, the High Priest, whose two oldest sons in an overzealous demonstration of their priestly duties are consumed in a flash of holy fire.
And then there’s you and me. We’ve struggled too. Some more than others but this isn’t a competition. Your illness, or your unsuccessful business, or your failed relationship or your loss – that is the adversity chapter of the story of your life. Sandberg’s book is about living life accepting that sh*t happens and then finding a way to live in Option B.
We all can tell stories of those who overcame adversity by finding courage and building up character. They suffered the trauma and swore that no joy would be had again; that no favor would enhance their lives. And then, sometimes, they find new relationships or create new businesses, or build new homes. The lucky ones go a step further. They become advocates for other families. Or fundraisers for curing an illness. Or mentors to those who have struggled.
Even after believing that you will never be happy again or never take pleasure in another day, that morning comes where a smile creeps in, a chuckle emerges and a laugh lights up your soul. Even better, if we are blessed with friends or family or caring professionals, we can better confront our pain, be encouraged to act despite our fear and together we find joy again.
For some, the source of strength, the courage of rising and the return of happiness all comes because God. That’s what Judaism instructs. For example, the haftorah for the week’s reading Acharei Mot – Kedoshim is from the prophet Amos. After a prediction of impending doom, God promises to lift up the fallen sukkah of David, to repair its ruin and build it firmly again. Sometimes we are fallen and we find the strength to rise up. Sometimes we feel our lives are a ruin and yet the day of restoration arrives.
Discussions of adversity often focus on blaming God. Upbraiding God is always available to us. I want to offer another possibility without diminishing the pain of adversity. How about praising God for recovery, for resiliency, and for restoration? Thank you God for providing option B.
Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died at an early age and option A for her life, a life with her husband, was no longer possible. Two painful years later she is writing and speaking about living her life with dignity, courage and even joy, although she can now only live Option B. What she may not yet realize is that almost all of us live Option B. Our lives are never as we expect. It is not our nature to generally anticipate that life’s twists and turns will be car crashes and cancer cells. Yet, it should be our anticipation that God will be with us when we stand up again and when we laugh. At least that’s my guidebook for Option B – God is in the courage that emboldens us and in the joy that enlivens us.
The poet Rainier Marie Rilke wrote in God’s voice: Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.
When next I see you, I hope I recognize your strength to overcome adversity, to build resilience and to experience the joy of living. And maybe you’ll see mine. And in that moment, we’ll both say, halleluyah or amen, because God.