Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What could "Blue Jasmine" in Woody Allen's film have done to start a new, meaningful life?

If you were as fascinated by Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine" as many critics and I were, you may have asked yourself what a wealthy socialite who suddenly loses all her money in dramatic circumstances might have done to come back to reality and lead a constructive, meaningful life. Fortunately, an incredible woman, Elizabeth Maxwell, did just that, according to The New York Times obituary on August 9, 2013, after Dr. Maxwell died at 92.

Elizabeth Maxwell met her husband, Robert, when she welcomed Allied officers to liberated Paris after World War II. She was a French Huguenot who came from an aristocratic French family. He was a Holocaust survivor born in Czechoslovakia, who later changed his name when he became a British intelligence agent during the war. Together they built a multibilllion-dollar media business, including the Macmillan publishing group and The New York Daily News, and a 53-room manor. They also produced five daughters and four sons. 

Then everything changed when Robert Maxwell fell or jumped from his yacht in 1991 near the Canary Islands. Because of the strange circumstances of his death, she could not get insurance. Then many illegal actions turned up in his business dealings leading to bankruptcy, and she was suddenly penniless.She also found out that her husband had been unfaithful. What could she do when she appeared to have nothing? 

Instead of being overwhelmed by her changed circumstances when she was 70, she continued her educational efforts to bring more attention to the Holocaust, which had led to death of so many of her husband's family members. Armed with her Oxford Ph.D., which she had obtained at the age of 60, she continued the Holocaust and Genocide Studies journal she had started with her husband in 1987 and arranged several scholarly conferences on the subject. To make some money, she published her autobiography, "A Mind of My Own:  My Life with Robert Maxwell" and lectured widely. By the time she died, she had been honored widely for her educational and philanthropic efforts and had lived a full life in the midst of her family.

The lesson is clear for anyone who experiences a great or small loss or dislocation: concentrate on having a meaningful life helping others rather than making yourself sick regretting the material riches you have lost.

Dr. Susan Gitelson, author, Giving Is Not Just For The Very Rich: A How-to Guide for Giving and Philanthropy

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