a good book, not flinching, and the power of story

Posted: May 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

If you’ve been around a little while, you’ve heard me mention that I listen to books on CD in my car.  I first started it to help keep me awake on longer road trips, as I am a treacherously sleepy driver.  But I have continued it even on my short 5-minute drives to work, both because I love the power of a compelling story, and because I detest the habit that radio stations have of playing the same darn 10 songs over and over again while thousands of good songs are dying for lack of exposure. 

My current book on CD, Vaclav and Lena, is absolutely undoing me.  The last several days, I have bawled my eyes out on several occasions during my short commutes to work, church, running errands, etc, never for the same reason twice.  Once it was from heartbreak.  Once it was from joy.  Once it was from shock.  Not to mention the times I have laughed so hard I just about couldn’t breathe.  What a masterfully crafted book.  You should buy it or check it out from the library or whatever.  AMAZING.  I mean, I’m not to the end yet and the author could still disappoint me there, but either way the writing is incredible. 

An important thing to me about good books is the way they make us think about real life. I think all the time about the two children at the center of this story, and the other players surrounding them. This morning the story made me think about this:  a problem with the horror of lives that are way outside of acceptable boundaries, like shocking abuse or neglect, etc, is how often those who experience that horror tend to perceive it in a matter of fact way.  We who haven’t survived such things read it and it’s so drama-filled, so powerful, so obviously wrong, so anger-inducing, so heart-breaking.  But the book portrays something very well that I’ve seen in endless cases of those who were abused or neglected as kids:  because it is all they’ve ever lived, maybe sometimes they aren’t able to see it as “so obviously wrong.”  Too often they see it as LIFE, as the way things are, as the way people treat each other.  Or they see it as “clearly their own fault” or as somehow unavoidable or inescapable.  Most of all, to them it is all to often just ordinary life as they know it.  Who runs to the authorities or the neighbors or whatever to report everyday ordinary life? 

When I worked directly with kids from horrifying households, I had to work all the time on deliberately Not Flinching, no matter what they told me.  I would be one on one with them, and as they spoke, what I would hear would make everything in me want to cry, want to shut it down.  “I don’t want to know this!” I often thought. 

While they occasionally spoke through tears, more often they talked in a dull, matter-of-fact voice, as if they were telling the details of a story they had read in English class or something.  Inside, I somehow understood…if I flinch, if I cry, if I react dramatically…I will be effectively shutting a door that this child NEEDS to have open.  So I learned how to listen and Not Flinch.  How to listen and pray silently.  How to communicate first and foremost, whatever you tell me, my feelings about you, my opinions of you, my behavior toward you will not change.  No matter what’s been done to you, I see you, I hear you, I care about you.  I believe you.  I don’t blame you.  I won’t laugh at you or tell on you.  It’s a strange bunch of messages to need to communicate.  But the battle for that kid goes well beyond just fighting off one abuser in their life.  There’s a whole set of bad information one has to overcome if the kid (or the adult survivor, either, for that matter) is to have any chance of escape from the endless cycle that these sorts of horrors perpetuate. 

No sunshine in Karen’s blog tonight.  But these things are close to my heart, and tonight I am grateful for an author who clearly understands them so well that I wonder…did she survive it herself?  Or who did she love that came through the awful gauntlet of child abuse? 

Story has power.  That’s the short summary tonight. 

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