Friday, October 2, 2009

Helped by "The Help"

I've often thought that I need to be or do something more in life to matter.  I feel like being me isn't enough, but I'm not sure whose expectations I'm trying to live up to.  No one has ever explicitly said I need to do anything more than what I'm already doing, but sometimes I wish someone would tell me exactly what was expected of me so that I could feel like I'm working on fulfilling my purpose rather than wondering what that purpose is.

A couple months ago, I was perusing books on my Kindle, and Amazon suggested a list books for me based on my reading interests.  One of the books on the list was The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

I didn't immediately buy it because, at that particular time, I was trying to be thrifty by only getting the free (or nearly free) books.  Yet something about the book and its synopsis kept me going back to its Kindle page every day for three days.  So I downloaded a free sample, thinking, "What could it hurt?"  Two pages into my free sample, I bought the entire book.  Once I started reading, I couldn't stop.  Even when I didn't physically have the book in my hands, the book was still alive inside me because I thought about the story and its characters as if they were my dearest friends and I were a part of everything going on.  I wondered what the characters would do next, what I would say if they asked me for advice, what I would do if I were in their shoes...

I found ways to connect with the three main women in the book, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny, even though I shared little in common with them on the surface.  They were living in Mississippi in the 1960s; Aibileen and Minny were both black maids; Skeeter was a young white woman who had been raised by a black maid; they were all tired of the status quo; they became inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.  As someone who has never visited Mississippi, lived during the 60s, or had a maid or known anyone who had one, how is it that I could feel like I was a part of their story?

Part of that connection is due to Kathryn Stockett's amazing writing.  Her words provide dimension for the characters so that they can step off the pages and become living, breathing souls.  She writes the book in sections, writing the different sections through the eyes of one of the three main characters.  A couple of quotations to show off her writing style follow:

My face goes hot, my tongue twitchy.  I don't know what to say to her.  All I know is, I ain't saying it.  And I know she ain't saying what she want a say either and it's a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation.

I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.

If the book were simply a well-written one, I would have liked the book but not become a part of it.  I would have relished the book as I read it but not chewed and digested each passage.  The book was more than a good book--it became one of my favorites before I had even finished it.  Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie inspired me because they were able to accomplish a quiet triumph by simply being themselves and doing what they did best right where they were.  Reading about their lives helped me realize that I can make a difference in the world--and serve a purpose--by not worrying so much about living up to expectations but rather turning inward and reflecting on what I do best.  And then doing that.

I will never be a politician who can fight injustices of the world by promoting better laws.  I will never be an ambassador to the UN.  I will never be a doctor who saves people's lives.  I will never be a multi-millionaire who can spend money financing expensive charitable deeds.  Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie taught me not to focus on those.  They taught me to focus instead on the other side of the proverbial coin: what I am.  I am a teacher in a position to inspire college students.  I am a writer with the desire to share my love of reading and words with those around me.  I am a woman of many relationships: daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend.  Those are the things that matter.

The book's message reminded me of Gilda Radner's autobiography, It's Always Something, which details her life in comedy and her fight with cancer.  Gilda writes, "What I've learned the hard way is that there's always something you can do.  It may not be an easy thing to do, but there is always something you can do."  The three ladies in The Help found the something they could do and, in turn, helped me to start searching for, acknowledging, and actually attempting the small somethings I can do without worrying about the things I can't do.

Happy reading, and happy searching for your somethings.


Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I think it's cool that THE HELP inspired you to make some small steps toward things you want to accomplish or change. Sometimes we're overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of a project, but breaking it down into pieces makes it more manageable. Thanks for sharing Gilda Radner's words of wisdom.

Jessie Sams said...

Dawn, welcome! My first response really is sort of random: I've just noticed that when no formatting options are available, people are using all caps to write out titles. I'll have to start doing that instead of the quotation marks so I look more tech-savvy.

One of the things THE HELP (putting the tech-savviness into motion) inspired me to do was to write more. I love writing but have been timid (i.e., scared) of sharing it with others. I started this blog, in part, as a way of forcing myself to write more personal material that doesn't just stay on my hard drive or jotted in margins. Incidentally, starting the blog very nearly coincided with my finishing THE HELP.

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