Published: Sunday, October 1, 2000
Section: DAILY BREAK , page E3
Type of story: BOOK REVIEW

How Suffering Begins the Journey to Wisdom
Henry Holt. 274 pp. $23.

AN EAGER GROUP crowded into Kirn Library in downtown Norfolk. They came to hear Kathleen Brehony talk about her latest book, ``After the Darkest Hour.'' They did not seem disappointed as Brehony, appearing comfortable with herself and skilled at living and enjoying each day, reviewed the main points of her book.

Brehony is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, who practices in Virginia Beach. From her work with troubled people  and from the grief and loss in her own life, she has learned about extracting wisdom from pain. Resilience, ``the ability to spring back from suffering, disappointment and loss'' is a place to start.

``But I  want more,'' she said. ``I want to go beyond resilience to a warrior's courage, to pure compassion, and to advance - even just a little - down the path toward enlightenment.''

Her previous book, ``Ordinary  Grace,'' recounted the stories of people who responded to personal tragedy with creativity and love. One story was about two young parents, broken-hearted over the loss of their disabled son, who established a playground for children with disabilities. It was an inspiring book.

Her latest encourages her readers' resilience, optimism and growth through their sorrows with advice that is clear and persuasive. She  offers 12 strategies for growing through pain, a workbook from which even the biblical Job could have profited.

The characteristics of resilient people are listed and numbered, with examples of sports heroes,  entertainers, POWs and paraplegics who came through suffering to a new spiritual and psychological wisdom. She likens our lives to the mythical journey of the hero who must undergo the arduous passage through the  underworld to return with the elixir of life or the Holy Grail. Brehony cites literary figures from Dorothy in ``The Wizard of Oz'' to Victor Frankl, whose Holocaust experience is described in his book, ``Man's  Search for Meaning.''

With the presses pouring out advice for successful living by the Dalai Lama or Ann Landers, what keeps Brehony's book from seeming redundant are the author's two special talents: her knack for telling personal stories about herself, her family, her friends and the wide variety of people she has encountered; and her impressive knowledge of world literature.

Among the sources she uses for ideas and quotes include Norman Cousins, the Sufi mystical poet Rumi, teachings of Buddha, ``The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,'' Ecclesiastes, Lakota Shaman Black Elk and Kahlil Gibran. Her special mentors are Helen Keller, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung.

Brehony won my heart as she told of the radiant courage of a Norfolk woman, wife of a doctor, who died recently of ALS. She managed to live each moment fully and  at peace, and to inspire her family and friends as she faced the end of her life - a true warrior.

While ``After the Darkest Hour'' would be helpful for people in the depths of despair, there is also a  message for those on top of the world. After all, the wheel of fortune spins and we all must encounter suffering in our life journey; it would be well to prepare.

If we could follow the book's numbered instructions to the letter, perhaps we would not need psychotherapists. But for those whose recovery from grief requires a hands-on professional guide and gifted support group, it is good to know Brehony and her  brave book are there to help us say ``yes'' to life.

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