Review by Robert O’Hearn
When you are blindsided by unexpected tragedy your world can seem to disintegrate. If the misfortune continues and there is no return to normality, you can start to take it personally. Feeling isolated from others, you begin to see your life is supported by very flimsy scaffolding. You may feel cursed and haunted, or at least, deeply unlucky.
What is it then, that gets you through? How do you find solidity and rejoin?
These questions drive Leigh Sale’s third book (her most personal yet), Any Ordinary Day.
After years of interviewing people on their very worst days, and spurred by a series of shocks that had rattled her own (previously charmed) life, Sales sets out to explore resilience. She starts with a series of interviews with many high-profile victims of extraordinarily bad days, including Walter Mikac (who lost his family in the Port Arthur massacre) and Stuart Diver (whose wife perished in the Thredbo landslide). This not mere reportage, but rather a compelling quest into human strategies.
“A day that turns a life upside-down usually starts like any other”, she notes. But when it rapidly changes to disastrous, how you deal with it depends on many factors. Some folk use faith for support whilst others have an almost existential approach to the perceived randomness. Questions of fate, bad luck and karma arise for many. Is there a pattern? Why me?
Using findings of behavioural psychologists, the experience of counsellors, and even the statistical analysis of the ABS, Sales asks why we look for patterns of meaning and predictability. Does it do any good to do this? Can you extract goodness from the worst experience of your life? Why are some of us better at it? What can we do to be prepared?
I found this book to be an immensely rewarding read, heartbreaking and yet optimistic. Those of us who have been touched by black swan events of death and disaster will find deep resonance, and the many issues raised are handled elegantly and with care. Philosophies raised are individual and varied, but the uncommon wisdom of those interviewed, especially the counsellors and investigating detective, will stay with you, no matter your view. There is much useful advice in these pages, but also many moments that will bring forth tears. Life is fragile and fleeting, and the sudden endings detailed here are distressing and poignant in their effect on loved ones.
This book takes us on a journey to understand big questions rarely raised. It is a personal therapy for the author that enfolds the reader in its empathy. Thankfully Leigh Sales is always honest with us. She has no pretense of answers, is not prescriptive, and she makes no secret of her own mishandling of delicate situations. Indeed, Sales’ take on the role of the media in further traumatizing disaster victims makes this book vital reading.
There are many inspiring people in Any Ordinary Day, and it is a privilege to access their thoughts and experience. Their generous and courageous sharing form the core and soul of this book, and a lesser author may not have been worthy or as skilful in their handling. The small moments: the rituals, personal values, and the genuine honouring of each other; these are the real treasures that help us in difficult times, and the author highlights them beautifully.
Leigh Sales has crafted one of my favourite books of the year, it is empathetic, balanced and compassionate, sprinkled with humour and insight. I thoroughly recommend Any Ordinary Day to thoughtful readers everywhere. It is particularly essential for journalists and frontline counsellors, but then again, we can all be of better use in a crisis, if only to ourselves. To that end I urge you to read it.
We are all in danger of the great blindside, but this book is ultimately about paying attention to the precious thing we call life, on any ordinary day at any ordinary moment. This is uplifting and inspiring writing from a national treasure.
Click the link below to listen to Leigh Sales chat with us for The Booktopia Podcast …
Any Ordinary Day
As a journalist, Leigh Sales often encounters people experiencing the worst moments of their lives in the full glare of the media. But one particular string of bad news stories – and a terrifying brush with her own mortality – sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event. What are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?
In this wise and layered book, Leigh talks intimately with people who’ve faced the unimaginable, from terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Along the way, she offers an unguarded account of her own challenges and what she’s learned about coping with life’s unexpected blows.
Warm, candid and empathetic, this book is about what happens when ordinary people, on ordinary days, are forced to suddenly find the resilience most of us don’t know we have.