We’ve come a long way since we first starting using stone tools, and one thing that has also evolved is our capacity for recovery. Resilience, such an important part of our physical survival, has become a definitive component of our emotional endurance as well.
History is marked by tragic events, whether inflicted upon us by nature or by man himself. But we persevere. We pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, dust off our pants, and trudge ahead.
In times of confounding tragedy, it helps to keep in mind that we are a species capable of incredible goodwill and perseverance. The following cities and events remind us of our ability to recover from adversity, and remind us that brighter days are always ahead.
1. Chicago, Ill.: The Great Chicago Fire
For three days in October of 1871, a fire raged through Chicago, killing hundreds of people and destroying 17,450 buildings covering 3.3 square miles. Although the fire was one of the worst urban fires and the largest U.S. disaster of the 19th century, the efficient rebuilding effort that followed the fire helped make Chicago become the populous and economically important American city that it is today.
2. Johnstown, Pa.: The Great Flood
The Great Flood of 1889 happened on May 31, 1889, when excessive rainfall instigated the failure of the South Fork Dam situated on the Little Conemaugh River, upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pa. The dam's failure unleashed a torrent of 20 million tons of water from Lake Conemaugh, killing 2,209 people and causing $17 million in damage. Although devastating, the tragedy spawned the first major disaster relief effort handled by the new American Red Cross, led by the estimable Clara Barton. Support for victims came from across the United States as well as from 18 foreign countries. The town rebuilt, and it remains a vibrant community to this day.
3. San Francisco: Earthquake and fire
In 1906, San Francisco suffered from a devastating earthquake that toppled much of the city, followed by raging fires that consumed 80 percent of the city; 25,000 buildings were destroyed, and the death toll has been estimated at a minimum of 3,000 people. By the time the fires had been quelled, San Francisco was in shambles. But reconstruction was swift, and remarkably, almost completely finished by 1915, just in time for the Panama-Pacific Exposition that celebrated the reconstruction of the city and its "rise from the ashes.” The City by the Bay persists as one of the most beautiful destinations in the country.
4. New York, N.Y.: Sept. 11
The lingering health effects of people who were near the site of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 haven't been eradicated, and the pain of losing loved ones will always endure. But psychologists have found that the fear and anger that surrounded New York City and the rest of the country have largely faded away, according to the LA Times. "A lot of people were surprised at how quickly the trauma disappeared," says George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University in New York City.
We're a resilient country, the experts say, and the 9/11 attacks underscored the enduring strength of both the national psyche and the human mind.
5. New Orleans, La.: Hurricane Katrina
In 2005, the city of New Orleans was devastated by Katrina, the forceful hurricane that took nearly 2,000 lives and caused property damage estimated at $81 billion. Although initial response to the disaster was slow and mismanaged, the Crescent City has worked hard to rebuild. There is still much work to be done, but in 2010, just five years after the destruction hit, unemployment in New Orleans is lower than the U.S. average, and median income has risen 1.7 percent, compared with a decrease of 7.1 percent in the U.S. average.
6. Newtown, Ct.: Sandy Hook shooting
Looking for the positive in something as recklessly tragic as the violence that took the lives of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School seems futile at best. But psychiatrists at least paint a picture less abysmal than most of us probably expect. For young people exposed to gun trauma, the road to recovery can be long, but the good news is that most of these children will probably heal, says The New York Times.
“Most kids, even of this age, are resilient,” said Dr. Glenn Saxe, chairman of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. “The data shows that the majority of people after a trauma, including a school assault, will end up doing O.K.” Only time will tell how the town will recover, but the community had become more closely-knit, and if experts are correct, the children have a good chance of healing.
7. Boston, Mass.: Marathon bombing
Of course it's much too early to say how the city of Boston will recover following the bombing attack at the finish line of the city's celebratory marathon, but one thing is clear: The people of Boston are filled with goodwill and should take immeasurable pride in that. At last count, more than 8,000 people had volunteered to take in stranded runners and tourists who were evacuated from their hotels, the blood banks were full in hours, restaurants gave out free food, and the town in general began reclaiming a sense of spirit and community in the moments after the explosions occurred.
It's bittersweet to realize that we are becoming increasingly good at this. Tragedy strikes, and we immediately rush to find out what we can do. We get blankets, water and coffee to those affected and we become glued to Twitter and the media to find out where we're needed. We work diligently to build community and offer support, as we open our homes as well as our hearts.
Less tragedy in the first place would be nice, but in the face of things we can't control, at least we are learning to help each other recover more quickly, with love and grace.
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