Book Review–North of Hope

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer


 

north of hopeWhat mattered was that they were gone.

No, what mattered was that they had lived.

What mattered was that I still lived, even for a moment.

What mattered was what I made of this moment.

A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting Shannon Huffman Polson after her presentation at the Festival of Faith and Writing. She opened her book, North of Hope and read the first paragraph in a voice that was commanding and strong. In this way, she began to place her memoir in context, a context where her father and stepmother were killed by a bear in Alaska while they camped near a river. There was such a contrast in what she said and how she said it–and I knew this was a woman who was surviving a catastrophic grief. Her words drummed against my own grieving heart. As she continued, I realized that she is also a woman who has carved an intelligent life filled with bravery, commitment and truth-seeking. She is a woman I wanted to learn more about, a woman I knew I could learn from.

I saved the book for my vacation so that I wouldn’t be interrupted as I read. It did not disappoint. The writing is lyrical and poignant. There are three stories braided together–her parents’ last days as described in their journal, the author’s need to express her grief by finishing the journey for them, and her personal history. The journey was physically challenging, the writing is emotionally gripping.

Her descriptions of Alaskan wilderness are brilliant, the ruggedness softened by the backdrop of Mozart’s Requiem as she told of her efforts to reconcile not only what happened to her dad and his wife, but how this event changed her life and challenged her faith. This is a beautifully crafted memoir.

For me, however, one of the most important aspects of this story is the tapestry of family dynamics. The delicate weaving of  relationships can be so complicated.

I saw two people who had known the same person so differently, known life so differently. We were scrawling our own stories across wrinkled pages, and despite sharing relationships and circumstances, our stories bore only a giant resemblance to each other. Each of us staggered forward in different directions with the opportunity—the responsibility—to write our own lives.

Yes, I’ve felt this. Staggering forward, stumbling often, making choices. That’s why these closing words are the ones I’m carrying forward:

I could see, dimly, that the missing acknowledgement also sprang from pain, pain carried from the scars of previous generations.

At the same time, I understood that compassion might exist without connection. I was strong enough to draw those boundaries. Whatever else Dad had or had not done, he had taught me that I was strong enough to create my own life. Each of us had to take responsibility for who we were, and how we reacted to the stones and boulders in our way.

Each of us must take responsibility for who we are, and who we will transform to. What will you do today? 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *