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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Difficult Family Matters

The book I want to highlight for your consideration today was written by a woman close to my own age. She is, unlike me, an avowed and devoted Christian with an intense focus on the Gospels. She is a college-educated wife, mother, and grandmother, deeply appreciative of her life on this earth but with heaven never far from her mind. She also practices yoga and does volunteer work (not proselytizing) with young people caught up in the life of street prostitution in Seattle. Her husband was always the gregarious half of the couple, and for years she felt invisible beside him. As it turned out, though, she discovered that her journey to visibility had more to do with freeing herself from her own demons than with quieting or competing with her more vocal, outgoing spouse. 

The book is Hidden in Plain Sight: One Woman’s Search for Identity, Intimacy and Calling, by Becky Allender, and from the title you might suspect that you have read this book before, in numerous other versions, by various American writers, male and female, but I think you will be surprised. I know I was.

It was a picture-perfect, materially comfortable existence from the outside — the side people saw — but that smooth surface hid a surprising degree of pain: the legacy of a cold, unloving mother; an unpredictable, bipolar father; and a startling rape during her undergraduate college years. Even within a mostly fulfilling marriage there was the pain, physical and emotional, of three miscarriages basically suffered alone and silently — because Becky had learned as a child not to ask for attention but to keep quiet, lest others become upset and angry with her.

Becky’s book is not about religion, per se: it is about her life in all its myriad aspects, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Her religion is clearly very important to her, even central to the woman she has become, but don’t look for preaching in these pages. Hidden in Plain Sight is, basically, the kind of full and honest account that Becky would have loved to have had of her own parents’ lives, in order to understand them better — and love them better — while they were alive. 

Since we all have parents, and since no one goes through life without accumulating scars, I think that whether or not you belong to a faith community or engage in anything that could be called spiritual practice, you will find Becky Allender’s story engrossing and compelling, and you will be — yes, inspired by her search for understanding and forgiveness, as well as by her dedication to going beyond her comfort zone for strangers. 

This is a beautiful, professional, and very moving work. If you happen to be, as is the author, a practicing Christian, your experience of the book will have added depth as you work through the questions and suggested writing exercises included at the end of each chapter. The layout and organization are very reader-friendly, and the frankness of the story is matched by the quality of the writing and presentation. 

Full disclosure: Hidden in Plain Sight would most likely never have come to my attention at all, except that Becky Allender is my first cousin. Our fathers were brothers, and we were thrown together from time to time when my parents and sisters and I made the summer trek back to Ohio to visit extended family. We cousins lived two states apart when growing up, however, and I left my family home for good at age 18, so we cousins never knew really each other well, even as children, and as adults we have had (up until now) almost no contact whatsoever. I owe my reading of cousin Becky’s book to my sister Deborah.

Twenty and thirty years ago, everyone was writing screenplays, and now it seems everyone is writing books, whether novels or memoirs. That being the case, one cannot help approaching cautiously a book by a friend or relative! But my cousin Becky Allender has written a beautiful book, and I am proud to be able to recommend it without hesitation. Because the Artist picked it up and began reading and I had to demand its return so I could finish it first, I know that men as well as women can find themselves caught up in this very frank and well-written account of one woman’s continuing struggles and joys. 

Yes, “continuing” — because we are all “works in progress,” for as long as we live, aren’t we? And I especially love what Becky says near the end of her book, after sharing an anecdote about one of her granddaughters. Echoing the little girl, the 65-year-old writer declares, “I am not finished!” — and how glad I am that she is not! 

Perhaps Becky and her sister and my sisters and I can have a girl cousins reunion one of these years soon and finally get to know each other. That would mean a lot to me.


Gerry said...

I'm glad you got to know each other in this way right now. Cousins are very good to have. They illuminate "difficult family matters."

Deborah said...

Gerry I appreciate your response regarding cousins. They do indeed illuminate family matters for us. Thank you.