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.