This book has been on my shelf for eight years. Feeling a craving for some adventure, I pulled it down anxiously. It’s always strange to meet an original after having experienced an imitation. In this case, reading the book after having seen the movie. You go into it with characters already sketched in your mind; presuppositions are full to overflowing.
So I was shocked to find that the story is quite different than what I had thought. Several central characters were completely unknown to me, not having made any appearance in the movie. In fact, a majority of the book was entirely new and unexpected. What a treat! Even of the characters that I knew, or thought I knew, not one of them went the path of the movie. Not one was portrayed exactly. This led to quite a few surprises.
This is first and foremost an adventure story. It’s pace is fast. It doesn’t go into a lot of scenic detail or emotional diversion, even when I wanted it to. And though it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) realistic, I did appreciate the realness of the ending. Rather than being tied up in a pretty bow, as in the movie, where the Count walks away arm and arm with Mercedes, having gained a son, with no second thought to what he’s done. Because in reality, things can’t be undone. There is pain that doesn’t disappear. Not all can be made right here. Vengeance doesn’t deliver what it promises. So I love the lament of the Count:
Tell the angel who is going to watch over you, Morrel, to pray for a man who, like Satan, believed for one moment he was the equal of God, but who now acknowledges in all Christian humility that in God alone is supreme power and infinite wisdom. Her prayers will perhaps soothe the remorse in the depths of his heart.
And yet….not all is loss and sorrow. The resounding cry of the book is one of expectation: Wait and hope!
I prayed for you today. We’ve never met. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. Books could be filled with all the details of your story that I don’t know. What is your name? How did this happen? What do you dream? What is it like to be you? Are you happy? I try to fill in a haiku for what I know…what little I know. But there’s not enough there to make 17 syllables, when all I have are 5.
You think I can’t understand, and maybe you’re right. I don’t know what it feels like to read the stick with two lines and feel the panic rise into my throat threatening to choke the life from me. Thinking this new life will end mine. I’ve read the stick with two lines three times now. I’ve felt differently each time, but….you’re right. I haven’t walked in your shoes.
But I do know what it feels like to be scared. To know that I don’t have what it takes to get through it. I do know what it feels like to be trapped. To know there is no escape that won’t cost me more than I have. I do know what it feels like to regret.
And if you walk down the path you’re headed, I know what it feels like to be ashamed.
You came in alone. Filled out paperwork and were brought to a room, and on the other side of the wall, I sat, with three beside me and we prayed for you. And though I don’t have enough words to fill a haiku for what I know about you, I have these that formed my prayer. My hope for you, J.S.
Two heartbeats ring out
One fast and one slow
Give each a chance
Lay down your life to give him one
Yes love, it costs much
To be Mother
I don’t plead for baby alone
You both go on
Far longer than you know
I close my eyes and face him
Feel him on my skin, my face
his quiet warmth among the sting of cold wind
through my hair, inside my lungs blaze
I fill them up, ecstatic with the burn
ignore the smell of cattle, manure
how here in the city did they come
to take from this fresh longing moment
Eyes open, he lights up the sky
beams of energy, brilliance, reflect
from the vapor soldiers marching north
to cover what I can’t forget
Then fingertips touch
as cold meets cold
and looking down her eyes gaze up at me
She smiles, she questions
Meets the sky and sees
She is mine
Wednesdays are my one day a week to have a few hours with just Eloise. It was cold yesterday, but the sky was gorgeous and it beckoned to me, and I had a sudden need to feel the sun and the wind and breathe in the fresh air. I practically ran to the spot, closed my eyes and just felt it all with my skin. And then little fingers grabbed mine and Eloise, you joined me in that moment, and then I watched you play, this little girl under a big sky, all amazement and wonder. I wanted to take a picture of you in my mind, so I wouldn’t forget this moment. I came home and wrote this. Beauty was everywhere; my need and longing half met.
As I started planning intentionally for 2017 (which I do every December using Powersheets) I made a list of non-fiction books I wanted to read. I tend to trudge slowly through non-fiction, so when I saw the size of this book, I gave myself two months to read it. That was unnecessary. I should know better when it comes to memoirs and biographies. The story is always what drives me. And there’s a story here- a good one.
The book follows Carolyn’s first year at Oxford. She arrives lost, literally and figuratively. It’s about her finding her way, and The Way. I resonated with Carolyn. As I read I both sympathized with her struggle and was frustrated by her obstinacy (and my own?) Everything came back to me as I saw my younger self in her, trying to reconcile her past with truth. The reality of what she’s seen with the reality of what is unseen.
It doesn’t hurt that I got to live vicariously through her. Oh Oxford, how I long to be in your walls! My friend Sarah read this with me, and as we laughed about our passion and excitement for learning and with a small dose of wanting to relive our younger days, she said, “Listen….we can’t go to Hogwarts. But, surely, we could do a mini-term at Oxford.”
On March 24, I’ll be attending a lecture given by Carolyn: “Of Books and Babes: the Power of Story in Forming Identity.” If you are in Fort Worth and want to attend with me, let me know! But read it first….you’ll be glad you did.
These books are so good. The months leading up to Christmas were hard months. They were heavy. In fact, 2016 brought a lot of trial to my family. I was flying home early in December from a trip that was heartbreaking, and I was emotionally spent, though at a point of stepping into the light at the end of the tunnel. The Kitchen House sat on my lap. I had intended to begin it on my flight home, as I rarely find myself with hours of quiet solitude. But as I read the first two pages I had to put it down. Rawness my heavy heart couldn’t handle. I wasn’t capable of going where the story was leading me. I came home, began adjusting to a renewed normal, and pulled this book out again. I’m so glad I did.
Being about slavery at the start of the 1800s it is no light read. Things happen, as they did, that made my stomach turn. I could feel the burn of hatred, the despair of being trapped, the panic and anxiety, the unwavering hope and calm resolve to endure. The first book follows Lavinia, a small Irish girl whose parents die on her journey to America, where she then finds herself as a slave on a cotton farm. The African slaves become her family. She belongs and she doesn’t, because her skin takes her where they can’t go, to Philadelphia. The second book, Glory Over Everything, picks up the story of one of the characters from the first book twenty years later. I was drawn by the story, a love for the characters, and couldn’t get to the end fast enough. When it was over, I had to spend some time working through the things I read, because I so desperately want to see the world in black and white, people in black and white, all good or all bad, and it’s simply not possible.
Writing is in my bones. From as early as I can remember, it hasn’t been so much something I like as something I need. Nobody likes to breathe. We need it to survive. Writing is the release that exhaling is, for me. If I hold my breath too long, the pressure from all the words in me builds and burns until- I exhale. Then they come spilling out and I take the mess on the page and clean it up, just enough so that it makes sense. Not so much that it’s not true. And then there’s space inside me again.