You know you’ve read a good book when you’re still crying 10 minutes after finishing the last page.
I just finished The Help. And tears are running down my face.
This book came out a couple years ago and I remember it shooting to the top of the bestseller lists and it seemed every book club in America had in in their hands. Everyone said, “Oh, you have to read The Help, it’s amazing.” But like with most things, I have to do it on my own time, in my own way. I’m funny with books – I have to wait to read them until I feel like it’s time for me to read them. I’ve gotta be in the mood or I know it won’t hit me the same way. I knew that I was probably going to read The Help but I wasn’t feeling it yet. The subject matter seemed heavy and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. And I hate to admit it, but when I found out it was about black maids in the south in the 1960s, I thought, “Eh, it’s been done before…kinda over it.”
I’m glad I chose to read this book when I did. This summer has been wonderful – so incredibly relaxing and full of time to lay in bed or by the pool or in a big chair at Ben Haven with a good book. I love love reading, but during the hustle and bustle of the school year, I forget that. It seems easier turning on the tv then actually doing the work of moving my eyes across a page. But it usually only takes one good book that I can’t put down to remind me of our splendid love affair. So this upcoming school year when I come home dog-tired from a long day with insane pre-teens, I’m gonna pick up a good book and let it sweep me away.
But I digress.
I have such affection for the author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett. She wrote something in her own words at the end of the book, talking about her experience growing up in Jackson, Mississippi and her relationship with their black maid. I know that she wrote the story for that maid and it made the book even more real and powerful to me. I don’t want to give away the story because you should stop right now and head down to the library or local bookstore and get reading…but I will say that it tells an incredible story of race, class, love, identity, humility and charity. There are three narrators and each one is given a unique voice that you come to know and love. Woven through the words on the page is a tale of what it really means to be a human being and how to love each other well. Here’s one of my favorite parts from the end of the book, where one of the main characters, a maid named Aibileen is talking to the young girl she’s been taking care of:
“Baby girl,” I say. “I need you to remember everthing I told you. Do you remember what I told you?”
Still crying steady, but the hiccups is gone. “To wipe my bottom good when I’m done?”
“No, baby, the other. About what you are.”
I look deep into her rich brown eyes and she look into mine. Law, she got old-soul eyes, like she done lived a thousand years. And I swear I see, down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be. A flash from the future. She is tall and straight. She is proud. She got a better haircut. And she is remembering the words I put in her head. Remembering as a full-grown woman.
And then she say it, just like I need her to. “You is kind,” she say, “you is smart. You is important.”
I love this for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Aibileen told this girl over and over who she was on the inside. There was no mention of her looks or abilities, but simply her character. Aibileen was a voice of truth in Mae Mobley’s head that she will carry with her the rest of her life.
And I realize I want to be a voice of truth to people in my life. I want to help my students, my friends, and my family know and believe who they really are. First, I want to be with them, listen to them, learn to see them. And then I want to call that indentity forth in them and remind them of who they are when they forget. It is so easy to try to conform to what people want us to be, to let hurtful words and actions tell us who we are. But if we have people in our lives who can say, “No, stop right there…I see you and this is who you are,” that is in incredible gift. And how much more incredible is it to have the opportunity to say that to someone you love.
I’ve spent a lot of my years letting different things tell me who I am. I’ve constantly looked around for something, anything, to define me or give me worth, whether it be a talent or gift or how I look on the outside. It’s hard to simply rest in being Kate and know that who I am inside is enough. But thankfully I’ve heard truth from people in my life who have stopped me and reminded me of who I am.
And of course, the most important Voice, the One I want to listen to above all, is the coming from the One who created me. The One who knows me inside and out and constantly reminds me that I am His. He tells me a different story than what the world tells me. He calls me His beloved and says that His desire is for me (Song of Sol. 7:10). He says who I am is quite enough. And its because I hear Him telling me this that I am compelled to take the truth to others. I want to look compassionately into the eyes of a broken teenager and share with them the love of the One who created them and is waiting to tell them who they are. Like Aibileen did with sweet Mae Mobley, I want to tell my loved ones over and over the truth of who they are, until it sinks down into their hearts, that who they are is enough.
Because I don’t know if there’s much greater joy in life than getting the chance to truly see a person and love them well. Sometimes we can’t see who we are, sometimes we forget…so let’s remind each other and be a voice of truth. Let’s tell a different story.