Why a personal crisis can be an opportunity for growth

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A personal crisis taught American author Elizabeth Lesser that love is an active choice. Be the love you want to see in the world, she says. And accept every person's individuality. 

A few years ago, a crisis presented itself in Elizabeth Lesser's life. Her sister Maggie's rare form of cancer came back after a seven-year remission. The only thing that could possibly save her was a stem cell transplant. And of Maggie's three sisters, Elizabeth turned out to be the most suitable donor, from a medical point of view, that is, because the two had pretty much grown apart emotionally. Apparently, it was time for a period of growth. Afterwards, Elizabeth described the events in her wise, moving, and often humorous book Marrow: A Love Story.  

Why are personal crises so useful?

"Wonderful times can be just as useful, you know," Elizabeth laughs. "It's not like the more misery you encounter, the wiser you get. But you might see a crisis - something that ruins your sense of security and brings unwanted change - as a kind of wake-up call. It's an opportunity to discover your own hidden strength and become more yourself that way. It's a choice. If you want to make use of a crisis, don't fight it. That's usually counterproductive anyway. When times are rough, try to realize that it's all part of life and that it happens to all of us. And try to figure out how you can benefit from it." 

When did you realize that your sister's illness might be a "useful" crisis?

"Maggie was dying. She didn't stand a chance unless she could have a bone marrow transplant real soon. The tests showed that I was the perfect donor: we had a 100% match, which is rare. I read all the information and it turned out a  transplant like that is not without risk. My cells could attack hers, her cells might reject mine; in either case Maggie would die. 

It struck me as an interesting metaphor, because attack and rejection were very characteristic of our relationship, besides the sisterly love. We had been each other's competitors, we hadn't always made room for each other, we had been unkind. What if we went back in time, explained ourselves, and apologized for the mistakes we'd made? It might take us to that open space which the Persian poet Rumi wrote about: 'Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.'

It seemed to me the perfect preparation for the moment that my cells would be going into her body. Having this talk might even increase the chance of success, because our mental states play a big role too. Maggie was up for it. She tried every available method because her life was at stake; she got chemotherapy, she prepared for a bone marrow transplant. Why not try this too? We set up an appointment with a psychotherapist she knew and started with what we came to call our soul marrow transplant. We were able to heal the wounds from the past by offering our true selves to each other." 

Text: Liddie Austin - Photo: José Alfredo Lerma Contreras

You can find the whole interview with Elizabeth Lesser in Happinez 'Find your Balance'.