#94 ~ Castaway Kid

August 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 1 Comment
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Castaway Kid: One Man’s Search for Hope and Home by R.B. Mitchell

In Castaway Kid, R.B. Mitchell revisits his childhood spent in an orphanage just outside of Chicago and the impact that had on his life. He is the only child of two parents who were very mentally ill. His father incapacitated himself during a suicide attempt and his mother spent most of her adulthood in and out of mental hospitals. Only his maternal grandmother Gigi brought any stability to his life. It was her weekly visits that provided him with the love he would ultimately need to survive inside the orphanage and to choose faith and hope over despair as he grew to adulthood.

It was heartbreaking to read about Mitchell’s experiences with his mother and the orphanage where she left him at the age of three. At such a young age, he had no concept of how sick she was and he blamed himself for being left alone. His kind housemother did what she could to comfort him and explain that his situation wasn’t his fault, but with so many other young boys to care for, she didn’t have all of the time and energy Robby needed. Gigi visited him weekly, but was unable to care for him physically or financially. Those visits were the bright spot in Robby’s week, but when she left him back at the orphanage it was like being abandoned all over again. Nothing good ever happened when his mother showed up, but Gigi tried her best to foster love between them. How it must have pained Gigi to watch the decline of her only daughter while being unable to raise her only grandchild as she would have liked.

Despite his circumstances, Robby is a resilient young boy who doesn’t want his circumstances to dictate how his life ends up. Once he learns that there is a scholarship to a college in North Carolina for which he is eligible through his father’s family, he starts taking odd jobs and weekend work to save the money he would need when he was on his own. His hard work earned him jobs that weren’t usually open to boys from the home. He also took it upon himself to invest his savings. This isn’t to say that his adolescence was smooth sailing. His anger, alienation, and feelings of inferiority would have led him down the wrong path had he not had this other side of him that wanted to rise above. His story is proof that nothing is impossible if you put your mind and prayer to it.

Even with a growing faith life, Rob continued to difficulty with relationships, especially with women. He realized that despite his loving grandmother, he had very little experience to draw upon when it came to romantic attachments. His fear that he would develop mental problems like his parents or that his girlfriends may turn out like his mother haunted him into adulthood. It wasn’t until he met the woman who was to become his wife that he opened his heart fully for the first time. Before that could fully happen, however, he had to learn to forgive his parents and learn to let go. It was a pleasure to experience that with him. She, like his grandmother before her, brought out the best in him and taught him how to trust.

It has been a long time since a book moved me to tears, but as I was reading the last pages of this book, I couldn’t hold them back. Some of the best and most inspiring stories come out of deeper personal pain. This story was well paced and well thought out. The only aspect that didn’t work well for me was the internal dialog and personal prayers. Those portions felt like they were often saying what was obvious from the context. I was able to skip over them without losing the story or its meaning. At its best, this memoir is a profoundly human story of the power of hope, love, and forgiveness. There is a reason for suffering if only you allow yourself to see it. This is an important message in such a cynical and sarcastic world.

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To buy this book, click here.

#14 ~ The Cider House Rules

April 4, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, My Life with Books, Reading | 2 Comments
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The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that – apparent rewards aside – they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

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