Thursday, October 15, 2009

"All I'm Saying Is, Kindness Don't Have No Boundaries"

I cannot remember when I've enjoyed a book more thoroughly than The Help. In fact, I was so completely immersed, the voice in my head started phrasing things in black vernacular English. The characters are strong and lovable and distinct, the plot is well-woven, and the suspense just about killed me at the end. Here's what I initially wrote on Goodreads:

Okay, I started reading this a few days ago and I cannot put it down! It's about a handful of black maids in Mississippi in the early 60s. There is humor and suspense and drama so intense sometimes my heart is just pounding as I read. The perspective is invaluable. I'm tempted to file it under "life changing"....

So far the line that sums up the book for me is this: "All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries."

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we lived in the Crenshaw District, where we were the minority. Every week we saw these amazingly strong black women bedecked in Sunday dresses and bright-colored hats, walking to church. These women may have worked during the week as bus drivers, child-care givers, and hotel maids, but on Sundays they showed their true colors. They were strong, faithful, even powerful. They were bright and beautiful and brash. They anchored the community. The Help gives us an inside look at the domestic workweek of the 1960s version of these wise, impervious women we admired.

I finished the book a few weeks ago (early, for a change) and can now affirm that I marked it as "life-changing" — a distinction I save for very few books. I was so engrossed in the story, the characters, their lives...I really did read way into the night with my heart pounding from all the growing suspense. I couldn't bear the thought of anything bad happening to these courageous women. I realized I'd become very protective of them. Aibileen was innately good, astoundingly wise, and consistently mentored kindness. Skeeter was headstrong and courageous, willing to stand for what was right when she was surrounded by opposition. Minny was a hoot! She had the iron will of a linebacker. Something about her just DARED anybody to mess with her. (And hardly anybody did.) The sacrifices they made were truly extraordinary.

Some surprising (possibly life-changing?) things came up during our book group discussion. First, we debated on the ethics of hiring domestic help, period. I weighed in heavily in favor. Don't get me wrong — I love my house and my children, love working and serving in our home. But there was a time (about a dozen years, actually) when I NEEDED the help. And was grateful for it. I bonded with those who came to our aid. Maria, Corrina, Alba...I love these women. I was glad to be able to offer them work, glad to have their influence in our lives.

There is a certain vulnerability inherent in opening up your home to hired help. They know all the little nooks and crannies where you never think to clean. They know how many times you dropped off your son with a wet diaper or forgot to comb his hair. They know how you behave when you're stressed-out. There is such a high level of intimacy and trust, and discretion is at a premium. Some people are very uncomfortable with this. (I remember my grandmother saying she could never hire a cleaning lady — she felt like she'd have to sit her down and visit, fix her lunch, essentially treat her like a guest. Then again there is my mother-in-law. She finally broke down and hired a cleaning-lady...not to do all her work, but to work beside her, clean side-by-side. After a very short time the cleaning-lady quit. She simply couldn't keep up with my mother-in-law!...Those of you who know her will understand why!)

Somebody else brought up the idea of Aibileen writing down her prayers. Aibileen said she thought they were more effective that way. Much like the brother of Jared, people would ask Aibileen to add their concerns to her prayers because they knew she had a pipeline to God's ear. Minny said, "Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety." Our book group seemed genuinely intrigued with the idea of writing down prayers. Only two of us in the group had ever tried it. One wrote them as sort of an Artist's Way stream-of-consciousness that she came to recognize as her innermost pleadings to God, and she also noticed answers appearing within her writings. That was cool.

I actually used to keep a separate Prayer Journal. On the left side of the page I'd write what I was praying for or about (and add a little check mark for every time I asked about it again) and on the right side of the page I'd fill in the answers as they came. Every prayer was answered. Not a single right-hand page is blank. So I might have to agree with Aibileen...they work better that way. Maybe just because I'm paying more attention.

I don't think it's a sign of weakness to ask for help — in our homes or in our hearts. I think it's a healthy step, one that has the power to make us at once humbler and wiser. But only if we approach the seeking of help with the type of genuine kindness that knows no boundaries.

And I think it's divine to actually be that help. Think, "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant." (Matt. 23:11) Nowhere have I seen that scripture better brought to life than within the pages of The Help.

20 comments:

Brillig said...

Oh, I loved this book too. I read it a few months ago with my book group.

Kindness don't have no boundaries. I love that. And I love your thoughts on it splashed with your personal experiences. I wish you were in my book group. :-D

Also, the part about your MIL? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That is seriously awesome.

Kristina P. said...

This book sounds amazing. I wish I was still in a book group because the discussion and ideas sound like such great book club topics.

I might just have to check it out. After I read my Twilight, The Last Templar.

Jessica said...

Oh, so glad to have another book recommendation from you! I am going to get this one ASAP! And I totally agree with your perspective on asking for help. When I lived in Haiti we hired a lady to help us . .. there were a lot of "helpers" around the school too, and I had so much affection and respect for them. I learned a lot from their work ethic too. If I were ever in a situation where I needed help, I by all means would hire someone in my home. . . Oh, and I love to write out prayers. It is something I have been doing since I was young, albeit inconsistently. I like your idea of checkmarking them and writing the answers. I will have to begin that!

InkMom said...

Ah! The hats! We lived in Memphis for four years and we drove past several COGIC churches on the way to our meetings. COGIC (Church of God in Christ) is known for their finery, and let me tell you, those sisters were decked out. It was a pleasure to behold.

My sister loved this book, too, and she's bringing me her copy tomorrow, so I'll be able to weigh in legitimately in a few days!

MommyJ said...

I DID love this book! Wrote about it not too long ago on my blog and added it to my list of "life changers." There aren't many... The Help, and The Book Thief have been my most recent additions. Loved your perspective, and I wish I'd had the opportunity to discuss this book with others. I can't wait for my sister to read it. She's always good for a engaging discussion.

Roban said...

This one is going on my must-read list! It's so hard to read during the school year, but luckily we have "drop everything and read" on Friday mornings, so I have a good excuse now!

Sandy M. said...

Thank you Charrette, I look forward to reading it :)

Kazzy said...

I like your prayer journal idea. Very cool. Sounds like a great book. I may have to recommend this one to my book club.

And about your mom-in-law.....uh, yeah. I believe it. That lady is a power house!

L.T. Elliot said...

I haven't read it but your summary of it makes me really want to! Kindness is everything to me.

I can't wait to read it!

Tammy Lorna said...

Sounds like a great book! Goody :) I love a new book :)

xo Tammy

PS. Thanks for commenting on my dust storm entry! I was worried it must have been really boring since only my family had commented on it! haha! I suppose not EVERYONE finds the weather as fascinating as me :)

Tammy Lorna said...

PS. Pass my love on to your husband and family for me. I was thinking about them and TAFT today :)

Melanie J said...

All right. This is officially next in my queue. I read Peace Like a River for book group last week and loved it, btw.

deb said...

Geez, just what I needed, another book on the list.
But if you say it's good, and a life changer at that, then I will read it without question.
Somehow.
I hired a cleaning lady for a short time because of some piling on top of each other things, and it stressed me out. I felt the pressure to run around and pick up everything, and clean all the bathrooms etc so she wouldn't have to see our mess.
But I would love a helper, more like the large family homes of yesteryear. To help with whatever, alongside me and I think it would keep me motivated. But of course she would become family and it would feel strange paying her.

Luisa Perkins said...

We're reading this next month in my book group! I'm glad it has your endorsement.

Heather of the EO said...

OK, so I just ordered The Book Thief and The Guernsey one that you suggested. Now I HAVE to check out his one too, don't you think?

Is it creepy to say that I know I'll love what you love?

hmmm, too bad...I know I will :)

LisAway said...

So interesting. I definitely want to read this one! Especially as I've been thinking a lot lately about kindness and how much more of it I need to have. (Oh, you don't have kindness you be it. Don't you love my mixed up pregnant mind trying to type a simple comment? Oh sheesh.)

I spent many years being a type of help as a babysitter and nanny and I loved feeling the connection with each family or parent (and most especially with the kids, of course). You're so right about how much hired help can see. It really is like inviting someone to join your family in some ways.

And the writing down prayers is a neat thing. It reminds me of the prayer roll a little. Maybe we only write names but all the needs and questions etc. are already known. It's neat.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I am definitely adding this to my to read list. You have me hooked.

Heidi Ashworth said...

That's so funny what you said about your mother in law. (oh how I would love to write a life changing book . . .)

Eowyn said...

Can I borrow it? Can I come to your book group? I'm feeling book group bereft. . .

And I'm going to spend the rest of the day pondering the prayer idea. . .

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