2021 Kiawah

Celebrating the forthcoming release of the new book, The Storyteller, today is Day 8 of the Book Giveaway! Each day for ten days , I will post a question and response from the book’s Discussion Guide . Anyone who posts a response with h/her thoughts either on WordPress or Facebook (“Stories That Matter”) will be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it is released! I will give away 3 copies.

Day 8’s Question

Cole calls Daphne “hero” at significant points in her life. What is a hero? Who are your heroes, and why? 

Discussion Guide 

Going back to when I was very young, I don’t remember liking any animated or made-up “heroes;” I wasn’t pretending a prince was mine to marry. I did thoroughly relish some male characters in books I read. Whip, for instance, was a particular favorite (he’s in Elizabeth Lowell’s book; I swear, I do read classics. Love stories like hers, though, have a place in my world as they probably helped me maintain a belief in the existence of good men), although Ian, Clayton Westmoreland or pretty much any of the male characters from any of Judith McNaught’s books were also high on my list of swoon-worthy “heroes.” They were heroes not because they saved someone (most of the time, they didn’t) but because they helped the heroine see herself in a positive light. They didn’t ask her to change but accepted her the way she was. Lofty and unlikely aspirations for someone like me.

Rich in character though they were, these fictional men were not enough as I aged. I was somewhere around the age of thirteen or fourteen when I read Martin Gilbert’s The Holocaust: A History of European Jews. At the time, I’d had this splendid idea to write a book about the Holocaust. To this day, I do not know what originally sparked that idea; I hadn’t yet been directed to read Ann Frank, I hadn’t seen any movies, I hadn’t read any books that I can distinctly remember. Something, though, sparked the idea. I do remember the library I was in and first seeing this humungous, intimidating book on the shelf. Bold, big letters against a black backdrop and a candle burning. It looked authoritative, and it seemed certainly big enough to cover the entire war. This book changed my life. I had nightmares, and I spent a night literally petrified in my bed because I could see black figures standing around me laughing. The book was written matter-of-fact like; there was no embellishment, there was nothing superfluous added. But the words themselves seemed to bleed. Thus began my lifelong passion for and research of The Holocaust.

Amazing stories, both terrible and yet awe-inspiring, leapt out at me page after page. I met survivors; I wrote them a letter. These people became heroes to me because they did more than survive. They did so with dignity, and they went on to marry, to have children, to laugh, and to become some of the most eloquent advocates for human rights I’ve ever seen. Elie Wiesel’s quote:

God made man because He loves stories.

Elie Wiesel

made me melt. This interview with Dr. Edith Eger, who is a Holocaust survivor, made me cry because she said, “These women who have been abused, they come to me and they say, ‘I can’t tell you about what happened to me because you went through the Holocaust.’ You know what I say to them? In a way, you did too.” (FYI: this video is 1,000% worth your time; so is her book). These people went through things I cannot imagine; horrible things. The more I learned, the more horrified I was… but also, the more inspired. I convinced myself that whatever pain I was in was insignificant because it could not compare to theirs. I remember choosing to re-read some of their stories, some of the worst stories known to man, when I was really, really hurting because doing so made me believe I could get through it. If they did, I certainly could. (postscript here: there is a downside to this; every pain matters. Although it did help me survive sexual abuse by remembering that there were those who went through physical and emotional torture, it made me downplay the importance of my own pain. This is not healthy because pain is pain is pain and since it affected my life, my own pain, however different it was from the Holocaust survivor’s, mattered).

Choices. Elie Wiesel, Edith Eger and the survivors I’ve talked with have all encouraged me by saying the same thing: our lives, however bleak and dreary they might be, however painful, are not out of our control. Abuse took a lot from me. It took my innocence, it took a great deal of my trust, it took my confidence, it took important things I can’t ever get back. But abuse did not take away all of my choices. It took away some of them, but not all. I was the only one who could choose what path to take in the end; I could have chosen not to write because the emotional benefits weren’t always overpoweringly strong. Drugs would have been a faster way to escape the pain. No one but me could choose to get up in front of an audience, regardless of how big or small it may be, to tell my story. No one but me could choose to write and then publish books I know invite questions about my past. No one but me could choose to believe that good men are real. No one but me could choose to keep getting up even when I didn’t want to .No one but me could choose to keep dreaming or to take a very painful situation and turn it into something valuable. My choices weren’t the only right ones to make; some of them may have wrought more pain but, regardless, they were my choices to make. The below excerpt is one of the many reasons I love Cole. In this scene, they are walking down the halls of the psychiatric hospital to let Daphne talk to Dusty; they aren’t but a few weeks out from when he tried to kill her. This exchange is powerful to me because Cole offers her strength, reassurance and support, but also makes it very clear that she is the one who is in control.

. “Look at me.”

She lifted terrified, conflicted almond eyes to his face.

“It doesn’t matter what you say to him. Anything you say will be right; it will be perfect. And I swear to you, Daphne, I promise you, he will not lay a finger on you. Do you believe me?”

She swallowed, looked to the side. Moistening her lips, she nodded. “Yes,” she said. “What if I don’t want to do this?”

“Then we leave, no questions asked.”

She closed her eyes, exhaled slowly. She shook her head. “You won’t leave the room?” she whispered.

Cole leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Do you remember what I promised you in my vows?  I promised you that you had my hand. I will not leave the room, and I will not let go of your hand.” A wayward, small smile touched his lips and he clarified wryly, “Unless I need it to prevent him from touching you.”

“Okay,” she murmured, nodding. “I can do this.”

He smiled, the dimple creasing his right cheek and pride shining in his eyes. “Talking to the choir, hero, I know you can do this.”

Each of us go through seasons of pain and joy; life is, as God promised it would be, abundant. The characters, mine and those of others, who have helped me believe in love, in tenderness, in the goodness of human decency, have been my heroes. The Holocaust survivor, the Darfur survivor, Malala and other survivors of child abuse like Elizabeth Smart have been my heroes because they showed me what I could do with the pain instead of letting it eat me from the inside out. Ultimately, though, the greatest heroes of my life, though, have been those who have consistently shown me unconditional love even when I didn’t deserve it, even when they themselves were hurting. My daughters, Breathe and Alight are heroes because unlike the pretend people in my head and unlike the survivors of tragedy who taught me about pain, my daughters taught me about joy. They showed me how to live instead of how to just survive. They gave my world color: vibrant, beautiful color and filled it with the sound of laughter. My mother encouraged my writing, bought books for me even when we didn’t have money for books or paper, nourished everything I’ve ever loved: France, horses, books, writing, country music, psychology. My sister is the only person with whom I can laugh until I cry; she drops everything when I am hurting and she knows me better than anyone else; she encourages and inspires me to do things outside of my comfort zone because she believes I can do more than I think I can. My niece, Alissia, calls me Titi Bear and says I’m the world’s best tickler; she gives me energy and hope. Together, these 5 people make up the sum of my whole world: they are the real, lasting heroes. True heroes, after all, are the ones who inspire me to believe in myself. Love is the greatest gift we can give, but it is also the one that makes us the most vulnerable. To give unconditional love, then, is to mark yourself as a living, true hero, and I am among the lucky ones that I have known some of the most giving heroes to have lived.