It’s the time now when I have finished one book and about to get started on another. It’s time for resetting. A time where I prepare for book tour. This last book in the Appalachian series will include a talk/presentation for ancestry buffs, so I’m working on that.
But it also the time I set aside for reading, replenishing, thinking, filling myself up.
I get out of the house more. I’ll be meeting with Sarah TheBarge in Portland next week for a girlfriend get-together. I am very excited about her upcoming book WELL, about her work in Togo. I’ll let you know when it’s out.
It’s a time for taking trips to the see the grandsons. And their mamas. I’m headed to Tifton, Ga in March to see the son, too.
The weather is beginning to warm. It’s at least raining instead of snowing. I’m back on the treadmill, something I abandon when meeting deadlines on new books. And I am delving into those books I know I should read but have put off for one reason or another. Books like Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.
It’s been sitting here in my office for six months. I won’t go into all the reasons why I put off reading it until now, other than to say when I am working on deadline, I don’t read as much because I am living in that place in my head and I don’t want the distraction.
I had been warned by others, though, who know my family is from the very heart of Appalachia, the place where those novels I’ve been writing originate. And I watched an interview or two with Vance leading into the election, so I am reading this book with a good deal of healthy caution. I admit I’ve ranted a time or two. Tim is always gracious about my ranting. He talks me down from those ladders I climb upon before they topple.
Early on in the book, the introduction actually, Vance makes some comments that resonated with me:
“Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me. That is the real story of my life, and that is why I wrote this book. I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility feels And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”
For me, these may be the most important observations that Vance makes in Hillbilly Elegy – a handful of loving people rescued me.
I bet you could name for me who those people are in your life, couldn’t you? A teacher, perhaps? A coach? A friend? A neighbor? A grandparent? A cousin? Or maybe it was a sibling? Or a preacher?
Undoubtedly, at some point in your life, as with mine, somebody came along and offered you the solace and inspiration you needed to step into the person Creator designed you to be. For me, there have been many such people. Maybe that’s because I’m such a wreck of a person, it requires a whole tribe. Some of you reading this right now have been that person to me. I have had the opportunity, or have made the opportunity, over the course of my life to go back and thank the people who have helped me get to this place. I hope you’ve done that as well.
Unlike Vance, though, I don’t really think of myself as living “An American dream”. I don’t think of my life in a nationalistic sense at all. (Not to say he does, either). I have never been the least bit interested in chasing the American dream. For the bulk of my life, I have been focused on being the person God wants me to be. Not to say I’ve hit that mark, woefully I fall short of it much of the time. (As many of you can attest to). Still, that’s been my motivation, my hope, my reason for not giving up when I despair.
The despair, I have come to realize, is exactly as Vance says – the demons of a life left behind. The demon that continues to chase me, sometimes overwhelms me, and keeps me always teetering between my usually ridiculously joyful and adventuresome self, and the raging frightened girl who slept on the floor of that trailer, expecting the monster to arrive, and now waking up to him in the headlines every single day.
There is a saying popular in our American culture – I am blessed. It’s a saying that I feel pretty uncomfortable with. It has the sound of elevation to it.
When we go around saying America is a blessed nation, there is the inference that God likes the people in our nation better than other nations. A truly frightful notion. Who really wants to serve a God who likes some better than others? Wouldn’t that be akin to being in a relationship with an abuser? You never know when they might turn willy-nilly on you.
God loves us all the same but differently.
I don’t feel blessed at all.
Nor do I feel like I live in a nation that is blessed.
But I am grateful for my life, and the dreams that have come true, and the nightmares that haven’t. And I am grateful to God for all that I have and am, and for all those loving people who have rescued me along the way and are now rescuing others daily.
I see what you are doing. I see how you are scrambling. I see how you step into the dark places. I see how hard it is for you, too, because of the demons that you can’t outrun. I see how brave you are. I see how wearisome it all is, this loving and rescuing others.
I am grateful for you, each of you, and the heart you bring to the world each day.
I just wanted to tell you – I see you. And I’m so very grateful for each of you.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of MOTHER OF RAIN, BURDY and the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).