My Lost (and Found) Self {Book Club}

Hello friends, I am looking for one more person to join the Have You Seen team. If you have administrative inclinations and one to two hours every three weeks to invest and bless the community, email me at [email protected] Bayta, Sarah, and I would love to have you join us! Amy

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We are at the end of The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway, as we discuss the final two chapters.  I have just finished reading and feel a solemn heaviness as the book ends with Jill leaving for her studies and life in America.

While her path to a life overseas was different than mine (and I’m sure, yours), I found myself reflecting on my own journey. But before we get to that, let’s back up to the beginning of today’s section, as Jill and her mom go on a year long voyage to England and parts of Europe. Through not getting the traineeship, Jill has to confront her beliefs that merit would override societal norms and beliefs—mainly in the arena of gender roles for herself and handicaps for aboriginals.

I understand the disconnect she felt as her head understood the unjustness, “yet try as I might, I couldn’t choke back a sense of grief for my lost self.” (194)

I like that phrase “my lost self.” Most of us at one time, or another, have experienced the loss of ourselves over what was not to be. A friend, whose 91 year old mother recently died, said the hardest part of the grief was having to grieve what was not. She had been a delight to her dad and a disappointment to her mom. Grief is often not only about what we have lost, it is also about what never was.

One of the recurring threads in this book was being raised in a colonial world. I can’t imagine wearing clothing that would have been more temperature appropriate for England; but that could be because I get very cranky if I’m wearing clothing that it too hot for a setting for no good (to me) reason. On this trip, “For each of us, in our separate ways, the journey involved the redefinition of our relationship to the past and reconfiguring our sense of geography. Just as we know ourselves in relation to others, so I know how beautiful Australia was only after encountering the real rather than the imagined landscape of England and Europe.” (201)

During this trip Jill also began to experience God via different cultural interactions (203). How has your understanding of God been broadened or challenged by living in another culture?

As Jill came to see England through a different lens, I thought of our own day. Many of us come from countries that benefit from the cheaper labor found in countries we live and serve in. “Now, on meeting its members [where their wool was sold], I saw not men of financial genius but comfortable bureaucrats who throve on borrowing money at one rate in the London financial markets and then lending it to gullible colonials at a three or four percent higher rate.”

Later, in the same section, “That was the problem with my attitudes to this beautiful and perplexing country. I love its medieval and early modern history and detested its imperial complacency. . . It was tiresome to have such contradictory reactions.” (208) We get you, Jill. It is!

Returning to Australia, Jill begins to sort out her place in the world. Would she be an academic? Would she return to Coorain? What were her responsibilities to her mother?

Watching her relationship with her mom throughout this book was heartbreaking—for both, but more so for Jill. When she finally was able to grieve for the death of her dad, I felt relieved that she was in a position to be able to tell the truth to herself about his death. “I was going to be different [from my parents and nourish hope]. I was going to be life-affirming from now on, grateful to have been born, not profligate in risking my life for the sake of the panache of it, not all-too-ready to embrace a hostile fate. . . Mine was going to be a law of affirming life regardless of past training.” (232)

I had to laugh when she said, “What would the hapless committee chairman do if I wrote the truth” about why I was interested in applying to Harvard. We can relate, can’t we? Even if we didn’t mean to, most of us didn’t tell the whole truth about why we were interested in serving overseas—in truth, we may not have even known all of our own motives.

While I was glad that she broke away from the dysfunctional living environment with her mom, I was saddened it had come to that.

So much to talk about in the comments!

Amy

P.S. Next week is Sabbath, so no post. In July we begin

The Scavenger’s Daughters (Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters) by Kay Bratt

July 11—Chapters 1-8
July 18—Chapters 9-17
July 25—Chapters 18-22

Hadassah recommended this book for us to read as a community (I love getting recommendations from you). “Inspired by a true story, and set against the backdrop of a country in transition, The Scavenger’s Daughters is a sweeping present day saga of triumph in the face of hardship, and the unbreakable bonds of family against all odds.” Placed in China, themes of gender and societal value, I have not read this yet and look forward to July.

4 Comments

  1. Kristi June 27, 2017

    Thank you for the themes that you brought out from the book, Amy. I loved Jill’s reflection on her life and her search for her vocation and place in the world. This was a very enjoyable and moving book, even more-so for the knowledge that it was a true story.

    I was particularly struck by the big journey that Jill and her mother took to England and Europe. Her descriptions of the scenery and the architecture were vivid and filled with emotion, because so often they were places that she had read about and imagined in her mind many times. It occurred to me that if I went to visit Spain I should re-read those chapters, almost like a travel book! This journey helps to clarify many things for her, perhaps partly because it exposes some truths about the colonial history or relationships between the countries, as you mentioned. She had been raised with certain perceptions about England and Europe, and they had been raised up as a certain ‘standard’. When she actually visits and meets people in their own context, her perceptions do not always align with the reality, and she is opened up to new perspectives, truths, or possibilities – even the existence of God. I think this is one of the great things about visiting different countries and intercultural interactions — our assumptions are challenged, we are humbled, and then we are opened up to be able to consider new perspectives and possibilities. I just moved to a new country, and am trying hard not to assume that I know how people relate in there or what each person’s life experience has been. But it is hard not to put people in mental categories or make assumptions! I appreciate your statement that “Many of us come from countries that benefit from the cheaper labor found in countries we live and serve in.” I grew up taking the production of these goods for granted, and putting a priority on the lowest price. Now, being surrounded by poverty and confronted with the exploitation of many poor countries, I am opened up to new perspectives.

    And I agree that it was heart-breaking to see Jill’s mother spiraling down in a self-destructive cycle, and hurting her children in the process. Jill is able to discern with hindsight how she may have helped her mother stay out of that cycle, but not until it is too late. Her leaving Australia was a bitter-sweet ending to this stage of her life, but I appreciate that she expressed with candor how she came to recognize it was the best decision. She had to ‘hit bottom’ essentially to realize the need to leave, but then had the courage to do it. Not easy! Truly an incredible life, and I’m so glad that she has the insight and writing ability to share it with all of us!

    1. Amy Young July 4, 2017

      Kristi, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back to this discussion! You know how getting ready for a vacation or schedule change can take more energy than expected? Well, that was me last week getting ready for Sabbath — the amount of emails and plans that needed to get put into place so that all who would be influenced knew what was going on was more extensive than i anticipated :).

      The big trip with her mom has also stayed with me. And this comment you made: “I appreciate your statement that “Many of us come from countries that benefit from the cheaper labor found in countries we live and serve in.” I grew up taking the production of these goods for granted, and putting a priority on the lowest price. Now, being surrounded by poverty and confronted with the exploitation of many poor countries, I am opened up to new perspectives.”

      Yes, I’ve been thinking about this too.

  2. Kathryn Bronn June 28, 2017

    Amy, I am so glad you chose this book, it was one I might not have stumbled across on my own!
    I listened to the whole thing in one go, on a 16 hour road trip. It was a strange and rather delightful experience to be driving through the American southwest while hearing descriptions of the Australian outback.
    All along I kept waiting for some moment of revelation or redemption, some big moment for Jill or her mom or brother. I felt a bit let down at the end when her “aha” moment was more subtle, and her mom never really changed. I mean, real life doesn’t always wrap up nicely, does it? I think I had been subconsciously holding my breath throughout so when it all ended and she went to America, I was like “Is that it? That’s all?”
    Overall, I loved hearing about her entire life, and the deeper look into Australian culture and people. There were a few parts when she mentioned that she and other Australians always thought they knew a lot about “America”, but weren’t necessarily accurate. I think I have had that view of Australia, thinking/assuming I knew a lot! This was so insightful as to some of the cultural nuances and what their deeper values were.

    1. Amy Young July 4, 2017

      Kathryn, how fun to be driving in one country and hearing about another :)!! And I agree, I was also on the look out for more of a big a-ha! moment. I kept wanting something more for Jill and her mom. I wonder though, as I’m typing this, how much I have been influenced by Hollywood :). Yet, i also know that Jesus can radically change people. Sigh!!!

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