What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” the adage—adapted from Nietzsche’s famous maxim—goes. But how much truth is there to that ubiquitous, inexhaustible saying? Tracing the lives of six people who have experienced profoundly life-changing events, journalist Mike Mariani explores the nuances and largely uncharted territory of what happens after one’s life is severed into a before and after. If what doesn’t kill us does not necessarily make us stronger, he asks, what does it make us?
When his own life was transformed by the onset of a chronic illness, Mariani turned inward, changing his bustling, exuberant lifestyle into something more contemplative and deliberate. In this ambitious work of narrative reporting, he uses his own experience, as well as lessons from psychology, literature, mythology, and religion, to tell the stories of people living what he describes as “afterlives.” His subjects’ harrowing episodes range from a paralyzing car crash to a personality-altering traumatic brain injury to an accidental homicide that resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment. Their “afterlives,” Mariani argues, have compelled them to supercharge their identities, narrowing and deepening their focus to find a sense of meaning—whether through academia or religion or ministering to others—in lives sundered by tragedy. Only then can these people truly reinvent themselves, testifying to their own unseen multitudes and the valiant mutability of the human spirit.