Journalist Rendon examines the question of how trauma changes people, reshaping their lives and senses of self.
The author opens with a story about this father, a survivor of the terrifying and grotesque Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. His father carries serious baggage—“I joke with him that the Nazis won’t shoot him if we are late for a dinner reservation. He usually looks at me like he’s not so sure”—but he is also humorous, compassionate, friendly, and empathetic. After trauma, Rendon’s research has convinced him—and likely will convince readers—that a return to the old normalcy is rarely achievable. It may not even be desirable. “[Trauma] is transformative”—not always for the good, but more often than one might think. The author’s journey of discovery takes him through the literature, from psychiatrists encountering a blossoming of inner strength, openness, and life appreciation in the traumatized; to Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy; to the ins and outs of positive psychology; to neurological and cultural factors that come into the recuperative (or nonrecuperative) picture. Much of the information the author relates is straightforward and common-sensical—e.g., “It is the mid-range experience,” neither mild nor utterly eviscerating trauma, “where most studies show the greatest potential for growth”—but the book is also full of stories of lasting, seismic traumas handled by men and women in remarkable ways, giving the book the valuable, practical aspect of a guide to confronting PTSD. Rendon examines how to train optimism, how to find absorption and nurture creativity in new experiences, how camaraderie and support lead to gratitude and commitment, and how “when you decide to struggle, you say I am going to elect to be challenged. You are enlivened.”
Rendon offers not just a spoonful of medicine, but also a furtherance of works by Frankl, Abraham Maslow, and his new, revitalized acquaintances.