A lot happened to Leigh Sales in 2014. At eight months pregnant, she suffered a uterine rupture and came terrifyingly close to death, and as the year drew to a close, she covered two news stories that had a particularly profound impact on her. One was the story of the Sydney Lindt Café siege, the other the death of talented young cricketer Phillip Hughes, felled by a ball on a bright spring day.
Until that point, Sales had avoided bad news stories as much as possible. Early on in her career, she had learnt that she was not a journalist who thrived on ‘chasing ambulances or disasters,’ and she was always especially shaken by those out-of-the-blue events that turn lives upside down in an instant. But her own brush with death, as well as the unexpected, indiscriminate tragedies that she reported on at the end of 2014, made her realise that avoidance was not only pointless but impossible. It was time for her to walk towards what she most feared, instead of walking away from it.
So Sales dived right in, determined to find out all she could about blindsides, grief, and bouncing back. The result isAny Ordinary Day, one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time. At the book’s core are interviews with people who have suffered random and devastating tragedy – people like Stuart Diver, sole survivor of the 1997 Thredbo landslide, author Hannah Richell, whose husband died in a surfing accident, and Louisa Hope, one of the hostages taken during the terrifying Lindt Café siege.
Their stories are as heartbreaking as you’d expect, but there are also unexpected threads binding them together, threads of resilience, courage and remarkable hope. Every person interviewed has endured the unthinkable and come out the other side, certainly not the same as they were before, but with newfound empathy and strength, nonetheless; with new ideas and goals and perspectives on life.
Richell, for example, says to Sales at one point in the book, ‘I understand now that happiness isn’t some goal that we’re working towards… I just find peace and beauty in the smallest moments. I find myself feeling less afraid of life… It’s as if surviving the hardest thing – the greatest pain – frees me to live more courageously.’ It’s moving, inspiring, and intensely comforting reading, each story reminding you that although grief and loss are inevitable, in the face of trauma we are so much stronger than we think.
Beyond these extraordinary interviews, and Sales’s candid accounts of the challenges she herself has faced, Any Ordinary Day offers a fascinating exploration of how the human brain processes trauma and adapts to adversity. It’s interesting to find out, for example, that the increased inner strength and empathy many trauma survivors feel is actually a documented psychological phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. There’s also engrossing (and in most cases, encouraging) statistical analysis that shows us the probability of any one of the book’s unexpected, life-changing events happening to us.
Masterfully written, revelatory and genuinely uplifting, Any Ordinary Day reminds us of our strength and endurance, even when faced with the darkest of days. It reminds us that we’ll be okay.
About the author:
Leigh Sales is one of Australia’s most respected journalists. As the anchor of the ABC’s flagship current affairs program, 7.30, she has interviewed dozens of world leaders and celebrities, including Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, the Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney, Patti Smith, Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio and Julie Andrews. She has interviewed every living Australian prime minister and also anchors the ABC’s federal election coverage. Leigh is the winner of two Walkley Awards, Australia’s highest journalism honour; the author of the books Detainee 002 and On Doubt; and the co-host of a popular podcast called Chat 10, Looks 3 with Annabel Crabb.