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10 Quotes From People Who’ve Survived Tragedy

Surviving tragedy is never easy, whether it’s a catastrophic event that affects thousands of lives or something we experience on a personal scale. Our residual feelings of grief, fear, and resentment often far outlast the tragedy itself, and it can be difficult to carry on while they plague our lives. But those who are able to overcome tragedy can be enlightened by the many lessons they learn along the way, which they can then pass on to others in an effort to spread messages of inspiration and hope.

It’s hard to fathom that a single tragic event could transform the world into a new place we may not recognize. It takes time for many of us to adapt to this new normal, which may at first be difficult and deeply uncomfortable.

Sometimes we may even feel foreign to ourselves in the midst of this process. But during this personal journey, it’s important to embrace acceptance and forgiveness, both of which can help us move on and grow in the wake of such difficult events.

Here are 10 quotes from some inspiring individuals who survived and overcame tragedies in their own lives. Let their powerful words guide you during your own personal journey through life.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Elie Wiesel

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Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor whose parents and sister tragically died in Nazi concentration camps, though he himself was liberated in 1945. Upon being freed, Wiesel went on to become an inspirational political activist and author, detailing his harrowing experiences in the critically acclaimed 1956 memoir Night. For many decades after, Wiesel made it his life’s mission to travel the globe and deliver speeches in defense of human rights and the Jewish people.

We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer.
Joan Didion

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Author Joan Didion endured deep personal tragedy in 2003, when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack just days after her only child was hospitalized in a comatose state. Part of Didion’s emotional recovery came through writing, when she penned her monumental 2005 work The Year of Magical Thinking as her account of these tragic events and the year that followed. This work is considered to be a literary masterpiece in dealing with the topics of loss and mourning.

One must not let oneself be overwhelmed by sadness.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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The former First Lady of the United States experienced tragedy after tragedy in her life, including the death of her 2-day-old son Patrick and the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy. Despite suffering such incidents, Kennedy refused to let sadness and grief hold her back from living a full life. She eventually moved to New York City, becoming an accomplished book editor and patron of the arts.

Saying farewell is also a bold and powerful beginning.
Aron Ralston

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Aron Ralston is a motivational speaker whose arm became trapped under a heavy boulder during a climbing expedition in 2003. Ralston was left with no choice but to personally amputate his arm in order to escape, enduring unimaginable pain in the process. However, Ralston still managed to successfully hike to safety, and his perseverance and courage went on to inspire countless others in the forms of his 2004 book Between a Rock and a Hard Place and the Oscar-nominated movie 127 Hours.

I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.
Malala Yousafzai

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At the age of just 15, a young Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home from school by Taliban extremists in her home country of Pakistan. She was targeted as an outspoken advocate for girls living under the oppressive Taliban regime, though the attack failed and only emboldened Malala to grow into an even more inspirational force. Yousafzai overcame this great personal tragedy en route to becoming the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, earning the distinction in 2014 at the age of 17.

When Americans lend a hand to one another, nothing is impossible. We’re not about what happened on 9/11. We’re about what happened on 9/12.
Jeff Parness

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Jeff Parness was a software venture capitalist in Manhattan on the day of September 11, 2001. Though Parness was lucky enough to survive the cataclysmic terrorist attacks that day, thousands of other Americans were less fortunate. In the wake of these tragic events, Parness — who went on to start the “New York Says Thank You” foundation — noted just how inspiring it was to see Americans come together as a community to support one another.

Many brave things were done that night but none more brave than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea … the music they played serving alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recorded on the rulls of undying fame.
Lawrence Beesley

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Beesley was an Englishman who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. The event was among the most shocking catastrophes of the early 20th century, as the “unsinkable” ship suddenly descended to the ocean floor mere hours after colliding with an iceberg. Beesley, and the many others who survived the event, always made sure to acknowledge the courage of those who didn’t.

I wish to preach … that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
Theodore Roosevelt

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Long before he became President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt suffered two incredible losses on February 14, 1884, losing both his mother Mittie and wife Alice. That day, Roosevelt wrote in his diary, “The light has gone out of my life.” Despite these incredible losses, Roosevelt overcame adversity and went on to achieve the highest of highs in the world of American politics.

Forgiveness has to be complete. If you hate somebody, it’s like a boomerang that misses its target and comes back and hits you in the head. The one who hates is the one who hurts.
Louis Zamperini

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Zamperini was a veteran of World War II whose plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1943 while searching for a downed aircraft. He then drifted on a life raft for 47 days before being captured and taken to a Japanese POW camp. Upon his release, Zamperini cast aside resentment and embraced the idea of forgiveness, even for his captors. Zamperini went on to preach this message for the rest of his life.

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.
Wilma Rudolph

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Rudolph was a four-time Olympic medalist, winning three gold medals in track and field at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. But it took a long time for Rudolph to reach that moment, as she suffered from pneumonia, scarlet fever, and infantile paralysis as the result of polio in her childhood.

Rudolph even wore a leg brace until she was 12, as her family — like many other Black residents — struggled to receive health care in rural Tennessee. After years of treatments and with a determined attitude, Rudolph overcame these early ailments to become one of the greatest athletes in history.

Featured image credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

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About the Author
Bennett Kleinman
Bennett is a staff writer at Optimism as well as a freelance comedy writer. He's based in New York City.
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