Yet for being such a student of recovery, surely he has more to conclude than that you have to face your sorrow. Experts have opinions on the specific elements of recovery, such as the role of religious faith, or the value of not taking people away from their communities, or the importance of forgiveness versus vengeance. Cooper doesn't have opinions on these. And he struggles when he tries to apply what he's learned from others to his own healing process. For instance, after his month of Katrina coverage, his boss told him to take a vacation. Cooper went to Oaxaca for its annual Day of the Dead celebration, a joyful ritual predicated on the belief that the dead come back to visit their relatives on earth. Cooper hoped he might soak up some of the healing atmosphere and experience a catharsis. But that proved difficult for him.
"Oaxaca felt very alien to me," he said. "The whole notion of sitting around a grave and laughing and singing and all that – I could not do that in a million years. I was glad I saw it, and I found it incredibly moving and I'm glad these people were able to do it and it meant something to them. But that's something I don't think I would ever..."
Cooper, it occurred to me, believes that little separates those who thrive from those who do not. For him survivors are the lucky ones, and victims the unlucky. To pretend otherwise is merely a coping tactic. This is how he ultimately dealt with his brother's suicide; he believed it happened to Carter because it could happen to anybody.
"Our skin is very thin," he says. "It doesn't take much for us to jump off a ledge or to kill one another. It can happen very, very quickly."
What he gets from people like Angela in the DRC, then, is not so much a healing strategy but a testament to the capacity for resilience in human character. The Angelas of the world remind Cooper not to be fragile, and not to lose the capacity to feel, even when there is no good reason to be optimistic.