Building Bridges through Loss: Two/Arshay Cooper/A Most Beautiful Thing

Signs of the improbable healing at work in our world just keep coming.  One of these signs appeared in a recent edition of the News & Citizen, a local/regional northern Vermont weekly paper, announced by the headline, “From gang to crew: Black rower finds peace on the water.” Rowing is one of those sports Ivy League colleges support to ensure high enrolment. It is expensive and exclusive,  so the story of an all black rowing team from west Chicago is startling news, as is the linking of three words: gang, crew, and peace.

I read the story of Arshay Cooper building partnerships with Concept2’s Josh Carlson ( with surprise and delight. And this reading led me to research Cooper’s book, A Most Beautiful Thing, and to watch the recent documentary based on the book. (See for more information.) This story is about partnerships, about friendships, and about the generously long, remarkably kind, and frequently surprising journey of loss and recovery after trauma.

Because the opportunity to crew came to boys who were essentially on their own and in need of support in a highly unsafe world, over time, they shifted their allegiance from the various gangs that ‘had their backs’ to the unlikely friendships that grew out of learning to work together to manage staying out of unpredictable waters when none of them had learned to swim.  It turns out these waters were both literal and figurative.  The unlikely chance of making friends with one another, with the water they rowed on, and with the racing shell that bound them into an unbreakable union allowed these youngsters to discover and develop the resourceful parts of themselves that had gone underground because of the life-threatening violence they endured day-after-day.

Because of their often dangerous home and school environments, these young boys had become used to murders, gun violence, police threats, and parent  absence, all of which forced them to care for themselves  and their siblings when they were still children.  Over the course of this tender documentary, viewers learn that parents were imprisoned by the legacies of their own traumas.  Including parents in the narrative introduces the concept of family trauma over generations.  It also shows the resolution of family and individual traumas when they are acknowledged and all affected begin to talk about trauma with sensitivity and even reverence.

The film quotes research suggesting that while twenty to twenty-five percent of combat veterans develop PTSD, almost half the children born into violence will develop it, more than double the war-vet numbers.  When these young boys first discovered crew, they were as traumatized as any veteran who has endured several tours of duty in a war zone.  And their personal traumas and the losses they endured are why their stories of healing are so important.  Even after the worst had happened to them, over and over and over again, healing seeped into their lives through kindness, imagination, inspiration, and the intention to bring positive change to others.

In our journeys from loss to peace and meaning, we often stumble into sources of healing without knowing we have opened the floodgates to positive change.  The stories told in  A Most Beautiful Thing are remarkable because those changed by the process of learning to crew talk about their individual and family journeys from devastating trauma to healing. In this film, we meet the parents who were unavailable to protect their children when young, and we hear their stories of healing and recovery, stories that expand our understanding of how healing awaits our readiness, our willingness to surrender, to a new sport, to Divine Love, to the courage to seek help.

As viewers, we are privileged to witness how, over time, broken relationships with self and loved ones repair, simply because these young boys said yes to an opportunity to grow in ways they never thought possible.  Their collective story is, indeed, a most beautiful thing.  And . . . , it can be everyone’s beautiful thing.

Shifting our attention from all that has gone wrong to sources of peace that we may have overlooked is a great place to begin a new story, one that highlights our ability to change and to grow into new, happier, more resourced versions of ourselves.  Trauma devastates.  At the same time, trauma is a portal into healing.

For those of us with our own trauma histories, wherever we may be in the world, what ever age, sexual orientation, race, and economic status, Arshay, his friends, and their families are our sisters and brothers in the work of building bridges out of traumatic loss and into healing.  This bridge building work is, as Arshay Cooper reminds us, a most beautiful thing.

Until next time,