President Biden epitomises triumph over great adversity

President-elect Joe Biden. 

President-elect Joe Biden. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images/Niall Carson

It always seems incredible how people who have lost children keep going.

How they have the strength to get out of bed every day, let alone climb the stairs to get into it, and then open the door to face the world after enduring the most horrendous loss.

How they navigate life engulfed in grief, having to deal with the vacuous, self-absorbed and utterly rotten people who punctuate our days, is nothing short of miraculous.

They talk about how that unique pain never leaves them and the perpetual sense of emptiness, but, somehow, they summon the might to continue to live and push themselves to function.

As Joe Biden took the oath as the oldest US president at 78 yesterday, itself a mighty achievement in dedication and focus to go the distance, he embodied this superhuman strength that those who have lost children possess.

Biden has lost two children, and his first wife, in tragic circumstances, not that any death isn’t tragic. His wife and young daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, in which his two sons, Beau and Hunter were hurt.

Then, five years ago, Beau died from brain cancer aged 46.

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The contrast in strength, resilience and dogged determination to live their own life well, after watching a loved one’s extinguished, with the Moaning Minnies and Michaels who whinge and whine about piffling issues and setbacks that befall them, is astounding.

Nothing has brought out the ‘woe is me’ – life’s not worth living’ brigade like Covid.

Protecting themselves and others is referred to as a “loss of rights” and the “worst punishment”. Get over yourselves.

Complaints of boredom and off-the-scale fed-upness flood social media and endless belly-aching that life is so dull.

It’s an embarrassing lack of perspective.

This contrast between people who have been through the most horrific experiences through no fault of their own yet keep going, with positivity and kindness, drawing out the brightness life has to offer and sharing it with others and the Debbie Downers and energy vampires who see their lot as hard done by, dull and hopeless has never been so stark than during this pandemic.

It will be remembered as the year that not only brought out the best in people, but the worst.

We talk about how the nation, organisations, communities, families and individuals will emerge better with valuable lessons learned from the last 10 months, but there will still be those as bitter, negative and miserable as ever.

Seeing the positive in situations is sometimes described as a gift. In some, perhaps, it can be learned, and is something more people need to learn, quickly.

That lack of self awareness that makes people groan and moan about their loss to people who have suffered real loss and hardship is staggering.

The worst offenders are often those who have never had to deal with any hell on earth situation, sailing through life relatively unscathed. They can be the worst at feeling sorry for themselves or fixating on the minutiae that people with real problems don’t even notice as major ‘issues’.

Biden represents what we often see in people who have experienced untold pain and upturned lives; the will to make something good of their own. Giving up is not an option.

I heard a man once talk about how losing a sibling had made him vow to make everyday count, not to waste time, but to enjoy life as much as he could, grasping every opportunity and experience because his brother couldn’t.

He owed it to his brother, he said, but it was more than that. He had been privileged to keep his life so would use it well. It was a chance denied to his brother. Anything else would be a wicked waste, he said.

This chimed with me because two of the most significant people in my life died before they reached 40. I’ve written about them before, and they are in my head every day spurring me on to seek the best.

My best friend from school died from ovarian cancer when we were 34 and my closest friend and housemate from university died just days before his 40th birthday.

Both sparklingly clever, funny, warm and wonderful people were gone, snuffed out randomly, taking with them all those treasuries of shared experiences and memories.

Those losses were pivotal moments. My friend had died childless, desperate to become a mother, but diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when my first born was just three months old.

I already had what she longed for. After her death, I owed it to her to live my life to the full. No excuses. I had everything.

After my university friend died suddenly, after the initial grief, the overwhelming feeling to make the most of life because they had theirs taken away became my mantra.

At risk of sounding Pollyannaish, it just feels right to be grateful for whatever we have rather than hard done-by for what we haven’t. Some might call it being positive. I prefer to call it gratitude and purpose.

Eyes might fall on Biden as an old ‘do-gooder’ wanting to ‘heal’ the US after the Trump years. But politics aside, there are lessons to learn from his attitude.

Life goes on and there’s good to make in it