It was so ironic that as I was flying home on a wonderful United Airlines flight at some 300 mph from the ADEC (Association of Death Education and Counseling) conference, I was reading David McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers.  It is ironic because the conference had a lot to do about sharing the best of the recent bereavement theories and about hope being a powerful tool.

As I sat on the plane reading this book, I remembered someone at the conference mentioning that one deals with falling seven times by getting up for an eighth time.  The story of the Wright Brothers is a story about Orville and Wilbur conducting aerial experiments, failing but picking themselves up for the eighth time.   Just imagine how limited our lives would be today if anywhere along the way, the Wright brothers gave up and quit.  There had to have been moments in the first days when their Flyer plane crashed into the sands at Kitty Hawk that they were depressed and discouraged, cold and hungry, and were beating off hoards of mosquitoes or fighting hurricane force winds that they wanted to give up and go back to Dayton. However, they pressed on, sensing that they had some mission and purpose in life.  And obviously they did.

Then there was the incident when Orville was demonstrating the Flyer II with a contract for the Army on the line. Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was flying in the second seat and a propeller broke, causing a direct dive into the parade ground at Fort Myers.  Orville was badly hurt; cracked ribs and a leg broken so badly that eventually it became an inch shorter.  In that accident, Lieutenant Selfridge was killed, the first victim of an air accident.  Orville could have limped home never to fly again with guilt occupying his every thought.  His father, Bishop Wright, wrote to his son:

I am afflicted with the pain you feel, and sympathize with the disappointment which has postponed your final success in aeronautics.  But we are all thankful that your life has been spared, and are confident of your speedy though tedious recovery, and of your triumph in the future, as in the past.

Then, in the way of a fatherly sermon, he added, “We learn much by tribulation, and by adversity our hearts are made better.” (p. 193)

So it was in my own life.  My dad died when I was 10 years oldWe lived in a small city outside of Cleveland where he had owned a hardware store. I often wonder if I would ever have become a rabbi if he had lived.  I wonder if my desire to care for others and my need and love of our religion would have been cultivated in that small town had he lived.  I wonder if I would have gotten into the field of death and dying with a concentration on bereavement if I had not gone through the tragedy of dealing with his death. How true Bishop Wright’s word ring true for me, by adversity my heart was made so much better.

So I ask each one of you, in which ways have you grown as a result of your adversity? In which ways have you become a better person?

Rabbi Daniel Roberts

Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts, DD, DMin, FT, is rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu El in Cleveland, Ohio, where he served for 35 years. Rabbi Roberts received his ordination from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (1969) and his DMin from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where his thesis was on comforting the mourner. He earned a Fellow in Thanatology Certification awarded by the Association for Death Education and Counseling and is its immediate past treasurer. Throughout his career Rabbi Roberts has been intrigued with the field of Thanatology. Rabbi Roberts has contributed to numerous books, His latest book is Clergy Retirement: Every Ending is a New Beginning (published by Baywood Publishing).

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