Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives
“While ten years might seem like an endless expanse in the right-now-don’t-wait realm of all forms of new media, a decade pales in comparison to a lifetime—or to eternity.”
The Hoda Kotb I once knew as an MSNBC colleague is the very same lady you see as co-anchor of the Today show or will encounter through the pages of her latest book, Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives.
Unfailingly pleasant, friendly, and chatty, Ms. Kotb is also a sharp eyed reporter with a special talent for covering human interest stories with sympathy and understanding. The subjects of her book—four women and two men—clearly overcame some of life’s toughest challenges. Four of the six had major health problems. One of the others triumphed in spectacular fashion over extreme poverty while the sixth narrowly missed death on 9/11; sadly, he did not escape its impact.
But Ms. Kotb’s long-range view of those cases is interesting as well. “Sometimes we seek out change, other times it finds us and demands our attention. Can people really change? And if so, does the change stick around for good?”
With weight loss routinely included in most New Year’s resolutions, the book’s first example is among its most compelling. Weighing over three hundred pounds, Amy Barnes did not have just weight control among her issues. The single mother of two boys became entangled with a man who beat her even as her weight ballooned still higher. Their “toxic three-year relationship” ended only after he stabbed and nearly killed her. Ms. Barnes’ weight loss yo-yoing eventually reached the astounding total of 340 pounds.
Now happily remarried and reinvented as a personal trainer and fitness expert, her book photograph shows a stunning 38-year-old woman who “finally found my purpose. My purpose is to be a motivational speaker and a life coach.”
Others profiled by the book faced similarly daunting changes after confronting the long term effects of unwise lifestyle choices. But Lindsay Beck was a 22-year-old, recent college graduate, and a marathon runner when she was diagnosed with a type of tongue cancer more common among 80-year-old smokers. At 29, Diane Van Deeren was also a world class athlete training for the Hawaiian Ironman competition when the sudden onset of grand mal epileptic seizures put her life on hold and at risk.
Both ladies endured surgeries and endless periods of convalescence almost as torturesome as their diseases. Highly skilled surgeons saved most of Ms. Beck’s tongue and her future career. She then fought to insure her future fertility by preserving her embryos from radiation, even starting a foundation to help others in similar predicaments. A fully recovered Diane Van Deeren now has her eye on ever longer ultra marathons. “Live your dream. Believe in yourself. You can do it. You just gotta try. Embrace life.”
Understandable sentiments in an inspirational book. But do some of our problems also reflect a dark side hidden deep within each of us? Roxanne Quimby, for example, chose the back to nature existence of a Maine earth mother. Estranged from her father, she casually divorced her husband: “. . . he was pretty resentful that I had made a promise to be in a relationship ’til death do us part and then I reneged on that promise; that did not go over well.”
But you may already be familiar with Ms. Quimby because she was eventually driven to support her children by starting an arts and crafts line of honey based products. Ever heard of Burt’s Bees? She eventually sold her personal products conglomerate for a Yankee windfall, the hippie chick turned millionaire getting the last laugh on dear old dad. So any regrets, Roxanne? “In order to keep progress on the path, we have to let go and keep moving forward. Evolution is managed change rather than random change.” Well, no, apparently not.
In a book where most of the protagonists have faced death, it is ironic is that mortality, dark sides, and deeper meanings are kept firmly at bay, just as they would be in a TV studio. As one publicity blurb puts it, Ten Years Later is about “resilience, perseverance, gratitude, empathy, and creativity”—but not about faith, which is hardly even mentioned and is eclipsed in the celebration of against all odds hubris. Yet as the late 2012 Newtown tragedy reminded us, hubris and self-sufficiency often fall short in the face of catastrophic and irreversible loss.
This is a good book. Yet Ten Years Later might have been even better had the author asked her subjects if they ever felt the need for guidance or support from any power beyond themselves, either during their crises or in the years that followed. Why? While ten years might seem like an endless expanse in the right-now-don’t-wait realm of all forms of new media, a decade pales in comparison to a lifetime—or to eternity.