Friday, September 13, 2013

A House in the Sky


I finished reading this amazing book earlier this week.  I've thought about the post I would write about the book for a few days. I needed to digest the book, so to speak, and distance myself from the intense experience of reading it.

I remember reading a Maclean's article sometime in 2009 recounting Lindhout's kidnapping and captivity and feeling helpless, as a fellow Canadian.  That there seemed, according to the article, little that the Canadian government could do or would do to help the situation. It described nothing of the efforts of her parents, police, and friends, which I learned about watching the Dateline special on her story, when I had just begun reading the book.  Still, beyond that Maclean's article, and my own aghast opinion of why anyone, much less an attractive white woman would willingly head to a country as steeped in turmoil as Somalia, I knew very little.

The book gives you the whole story.  Not just the fifteen months spent in a windowless room (as one Calgary Herald review described, this was a 'winnowing' and what a fitting word that is, a true separation of who Lindhout was and who she would become, during her captivity.)  The whole story is not only these fifteen months, it is not only the inhuman treatment she received.  It is also her broken childhood, her collection of second-hand National Geographic magazines, her own personal vision board of what she would do as an adult. Travel the world.  Hurtle into the unknown. And, really, in the truest sense, meet a fate that few could have endured or survived, let alone, in the aftermath,

I wrestled with my mind while reading. There were many parts of the book that were almost impossible to read, feeling like one was right there, bearing witness to unspeakable suffering of another human being, one whose voice rings clear as a curious, gentle soul, whose focus was on getting out alive, using what little physical means she had. Instead she mines her psychological resources, using her imaginative mind to create the house in the sky; the eye in the mind inventing a haven, a place to escape to, where food was plentiful and peace could be reached.

Without reading the book and knowing the story, it would be easy to have one of those reactions of "Oh well, how stupid was it to travel into a known war-zone, a govenment-less country, what could she have expected was going to happen?"
But really, despite all the proof we are given of our species cruelty to one another, we do tend to believe in the magic of people, their good, their generosity, the spirit that we're all in this together, none of us is getting out alive, and we might as well make the best of it as a group on this revolving-door planet.
I wouldn't have lasted one week.

This to me was more than just another read.
This was testimony.
To the power of fate and how our lives are given a direction that comes far from beyond--far from our own ideas of how we shape our paths and our futures. 
To our troubled times, these holy wars, religion misshapen into something so un-Godly it seems unfathomable.
Mostly, though, I thought about the aftermath and the scars and how many people would have emerged from a trauma like this; shells, really. Their humanity stripped. Maybe blame and anger shaping the rest of their days.
It would have been easy to turn this book into a grim warning sign, a handbook of pessimism.
But this is a book of hope, of understanding, of encompassing compassion.

Like my favourite poem "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" this is exactly what this book does--praise it,
exalt it,
forgive it.

I can't think of a better ending than that.

Try To Praise The Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

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