It would be hard for anyone reading this book not to find a person or scenario that did not resonate in some way. Nor can one resist the compassionate and straight-talking Samuel, who listens without judgment and suggests that we try it, too. And although few of her of patients find that the transitions in their lives bring unbounded joy or certainty, they learn from the often painful elements of change to “trust the ebb and flow of our feelings, and have the endurance to stay with the discomfort”.
For Samuel, the key to resilience is the quality of our relationships: family and friends can buoy us in turbulent times. Yet: “In England more than a million older people can go for over a month without speaking to their family, friend or neighbour.” The observations of her patients’ progress speak to the value of prolonged talk therapy, as opposed to the less costly cognitive behavioural approach currently favoured by the NHS. We tend to invoke the phrase “this too shall pass” at moments “when life sucks”, Samuel writes. “But here’s the hitch”: moments when life is good will also inevitably pass. Heraclitus’s theory of flux stated that we never step into the same river twice: the river has changed, or else we have. With Samuel guiding us through the rapids, we can forge ahead “with a little more joy, clarity, confidence and … hope”.
As in Grief Works, each part consists of case studies followed by reflections on a broader theme. In the first section, on “Family Relationships”, for example, we meet Leena, a rich businesswoman who is furious that her daughter doesn’t want the traditional Hindu wedding Leena has always planned. Then there’s Lucas, an artist trying to adapt to the shock of fatherhood after four rounds of IVF. And Wande, a successful stand-up comedian who is a secret alcoholic. They are each portrayed so vividly that you begin to worry about client confidentiality. Samuel has that covered, of course. In the acknowledgements, she thanks all the clients who “have given me permission to disguise but tell their stories”. She is clearly a natural storyteller, because every detail — every twitch and shift and nuance — rings true.
Julia Samuel's compassionate realism shines through every word of this wise, kind volume. It is emphatically not a 'self-help' book, but a beautifully written celebration of the strength of the human spirit. Yes, we are tested all the time, but the greatest test of character is to make that process work for us. Make no mistake, pain is inescapable: 'Unfortunately, change is for the bad as well as the good. When life sucks we say: 'This too shall pass' and hopefully it does — but here's the hitch: when life is good, it too, inevitably, will pass. The difficult truth we must face is that only death stops us changing.'
If there is a message in This Too Shall Pass, it is that life changes and these changes often hurt, but “with self-awareness, determination and some luck, we can re-program ourselves and develop sound relationships, despite our biology and history”. Samuel wants to stop people making themselves unhappy, and her well-written book covers most of the modern sources of unhappiness. She is not peddling any magic solutions, but she has a basic faith in human decency, and her optimism shines through every sentence.