“…despite every disfigurement…”

The snow is gently falling. It has been just fluttering snowflakes all day long. It is almost impossible to capture on my iPhone. The flakes are big and are just wafting like feathers to the ground, slowly accumulating into little drifts here and there. I cannot fully explain the peace and quiet of a snowy day. It calms my soul.

I recently joined a Book Club here in town. A friend invited me and the first book was, “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance. I finally finished it today, in time for our review on Saturday. We will be meeting at a lovely little place called, “Crema Coffee House,” which happens to be so close to my own house, I am looking forward to it. It looks like a French Chalet and they make everything from scratch. Their coffees are amazing! It is a wonderful gathering place in our community.

Today as I contemplated my reaction to “Hillbilly Elegy,” I also pondered my life and what I see in my own “rear view mirror.” The weird part for me is the author was born in 1984 and could be my son. His memories are of my generation as his parents, and my parents as his grandparents. I totally related to his place and time, insofar as what he was experiencing, when. HIs auto-biography takes place in Kentucky and Ohio. He was the first in his family to go to college (the Ohio State), and the first to go to an Ivy League school (graduated from Yale Law School) and he is now a practicing attorney. We diverge in our memories from almost the first paragraph. It was an interesting read from a social anthropologist’s point of view, but I found his suppositions and conclusions often hard to accept. The book created a pall of misery around me and I was very glad to close the back cover this morning.

For my own memories, we diverge because our parents came from such different places and my timeline is considerably longer. His interpersonal relationships with family members saddened me, especially with his mom (and lack of dad, for the most part). I have such strong memories of joy in my life and childhood. It was when I grew older and had children of my own that I realized much of my childhood was staged for the photo-op, much like my parents marrying in the Church of England, because it would make a good photographic backdrop. Yeah. My parents divorced when I was 21 years old, after 26 years of marriage. The day my dad left is a day I will never forget. Ever. And as JD Vance explained in his book, he never wanted his children to experience all the ugly parts of his life. He does want them to know that even if there is ugly, family is family and they’ve got your back. HIs family is huge – filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins, in full hillbilly style. They all parent each other’s children and he drifted from one relative’s home to another; most of his life living with his grandparents – Memaw and Papaw. Me? My parents immigrated here from New Zealand. Both are only children. I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins. My paternal grandparents made the move when it was announced I was on the way. My maternal grandparents visited once, when I was 16, and stayed for about 5 months. (It was wonderful and I am so glad I got to know them – it explains my mom so much!!) But my life was starkly different from his.

As the snow continues to waft down (and yes, it is already dark and that view is out my front door), and my laundry is dutifully running in the room next to me, I keep thinking about how God works in each of our lives and how divergent we all truly are. I was speaking at length to my HS buddy, Beth, today. We’ve been friends since we were 14 years old. And we were talking about her life, and all the negative things she has suffered through. Trust me, they are real and she has every right to be angry and unforgiving – to a point. I understand it and as I was listening to her, I kept going back to JD Vance’s epiphany of sorts when he realized the myriad of emotions surrounding his mom did not include forgiveness. He was holding on to so much. Beth is, too. And I once was, as well. But I learned I needed to let it go, or it would eat me alive.

And at the heart of it all is how we treat others. In my memories, as a child, I feel only happiness and joy. I experienced life-lessons and times of heartache, as we all do, but the over-arching emotions are happiness and joy. As I reached adulthood and marriage and parenthood, I came to understand why my brain chose those emotions to relate to my childhood. I now understand more of what my parents were all about, and I chose to let it all go and allow my mind to settle on those emotions. Realization is harsh; reality usually is harsher than fantasy. Children often create happiness where there is none. And I am okay with that, as an adult. JD Vance is still juggling plates as he wrestles with his present while trying to reconcile his past. And to some degree I have days when there are too many plates in the air. I tried to let my friend see that holding on to some of the poorer aspects of our lives colors the here and now. Why allow others who hurt you in the past take up space in your present? It is a useless endeavor.

People are people and they are not perfect. Carrying around the past as something that is negative, affects everything in our present. JD Vance has a lot of baggage. He works to do good for others, and to help others who are considered less fortunate, or who are hillbillies just like his family is, and was. He reaches back into his past to enlighten his future and I think because he is so aware of who he is, he will ensure much of his misery stops with him. I think that is a lesson we can all learn from. Still and all, with the pall of sadness that was this “Elegy,” it sorted of ended on a happy note with his wife, a new home, and their baby son. But the overbearing misery and desperation made this such a hard read. The next time, I would like to suggest something much more fun! Choices of reading material may color my book club membership in the future! LOL! What JD Vance shared will stay with me, I think, for awhile. And I will always try to be forgiving, and letting God handle the really hard stuff.

4 thoughts on ““…despite every disfigurement…”

  1. I haven’t read this book but I found your post very interesting. I also have a lot of past baggage I carry with me. You have given me much to think about. Thank you!

  2. I haven’t read this book despite it being lauded countless times by Rod Dreher. Mostly because I have too much to do to add one more thing. But I’m glad to read your experience of reading it because now I know I can leave it unread with no guilt. Whatever I read I carry with me forever. I absorb the author’s emotions as my own, especially in the short-term. This is not a bad thing in and itself, but that makes reading an uncomfortable book a potentially perilous exercise. I have learned that I need to let go of any guilt for not reading a good book, if I suspect it will destroy my peace or lead me down a dark path. It’s not wrong to protect yourself.

  3. Thank you! The friend who invited me could not finish it because it was so dark. I persevered because I kept waiting for the light that just never came. And it did feel like a depression had settled on me. I am still shaking it off. Good lesson for future “no” to a selection!!! Thanks!

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