“Friendship is unnecessary like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” (Is C.S. Lewis a member of the Pinnacle community?)
19 Bookers entered the majestic Kingdom of Thailand, the world’s fiftieth largest country with its lush jungles and serene beaches, and a population of sixty-nine million people, at the home of Bonnie Magee for this month’s meeting. Many thanks to Rosemary Farmer for co-hosting and to Rokhshie Malone for providing the yummy treats. Our in-house thespian and newlywed on Valentine’s Day 65 years ago, Bernie Crudden, thanked everyone for their wonderful contributions to her “Screenplay of Wellness” offered by Bookers to help alleviate her anxiety in the face of the frightening surgery she underwent last month. She reports they are slowly weening her off the pain medications…so far so good…no pain. Also, thanks to Barbara Creach for designing the covers for this project!
Our reviewer and tour guide, Jean Alexander, recalled memories of three trips to this remarkable country, in particular the unique family excursion in 2015 when ten “Alexanders” went to an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand, each assigned their own floppy-eared pachyderm. Elephants have voracious appetites, eating sixteen to eighteen hours a day. The group learned how to tell if they were healthy, if they slept well, and were getting proper nutrition. Despite their enormous size, they are generally docile and almost humanlike in nature but in order to ride an elephant, it’s necessary to scale up their legs to grab onto their necks or be flung up by their trunk. Jean shared their photo album of their time with the elephants in the river. It was hard to tell who was having more fun.
The novel unfolds as single mom and veterinarian, Natalie DeAngelo, experiencing irreconcilable grief after her two sons were killed in a school shooting, picks up stakes to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. In this exotic location meant to heal there are challenges, none more vivid than her own PTSD, coupled by the sanctuary’s in-house vet who holds a long-time grudge against her, and a female elephant suffering the same debilitating disease as Natalie’s…Sophie’s caused by human abuse. Natalie and Sophie, one human, one animal cut from the same cloth, both “raging inside against some horrible agony…overwhelmed by sadness and pain.” Sophie is confined to a smaller area offering security much like baby swaddling or a thunder shirt on a dog, while Natalie too is confined in a smaller place – hers in the middle of the jungle away from the glare of tragedy. The parallel between Natalie and Sophie tells the tale of survivor guilt and grief as they both struggle to find a way to heal and learn to trust again. The novel is deeply emotional exploring the capacity of a mother’s love and the long journey of repossessing their lives.
In typical fashion, Jean took off her shoes, attached a blonde braid to her hair, stripped down to shorts and a tee shirt to become Natalie asking us to close our eyes to feel the pain in the words used in a conversation between Natalie and her mother. “The pain of losing a child never abates….it’s indescribable…sometimes the grief is like a freight train without brakes…even you cannot possibly understand the impossible agony of putting one foot in front of the other…there’s nothing more difficult…than just living.”
The majority of our group felt this selection was a Bookers’ cup of tea – backflips – from the “management.” Our conversation centered on gun violence and whether our schools are safe, the emphasis of structure and religion in our lives, the recognition and importance of treatment for depression, the virtual reality of violent video games and how they foster a feeling of invincibility without consequences. We discussed how “animals make us more human” and the study of animal behavior mirroring the concepts of belonging. We talked about the Buddhist religion and rituals, their traditions and values. We may have wondered why Natalie seemed to focus more on one son over the other, but not enough to set off any flares with what really happened at the school. Also, Peter’s transformation into a more tolerable human being proved that you don’t know what someone is going through until you walk in their shoes. We discussed the viability of animals showing profound grief even in the wild, especially elephants. One study highlights how young elephants seeing their mothers being killed often wake up screaming and in another, a news report how they show compassion to nonrelatives as an elephant in Kenya trampled a human mother and her child, but stopped to bury them before disappearing in the brush.
And, of course, the eventual demise of Sophie tore at our heartstrings, especially with the title of the book coming to life with the elephants “mourning parade.” They came to her one by one using their trunks to smell her, lifting their foots to touch her body, running their trunks along her backbone, but also reaching out to Natalie inside their circle, offering her the same comfort, then walking to the river in silence. Tissues please!
We talked about the wonderful quotes at the beginning of the chapters, the author’s use of these are called organizing principles…letting the reader know what the chapter is about. Ms. Langley did a superb job of collecting some memorable sayings…words to live by in our ordinary lives. We are reminded the dead are constantly remembered by those who mourn…the goal is not to be the first one across the finish line…empty words without thoughts indicates no remorse…when elephants fight the grass suffers, meaning when the large fight, it is the small who suffer most…one touch of nature makes the whole world kin meaning that human emotion has the effect of bringing people closer together…don’t let your fire go out…keep your dream alive…mortals are unable to keep secrets because deep down, we do not want to…life will break you…you have to love, you have to feel.
And, an overwhelming favorite from Buddha, “Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” Natalie survived and moved forward by focusing on the plight of others and not her own pain. The elephants, especially Sophie, gave her a new direction…a way to put one foot in front of the other.
On the Business Side
We are hoping for a great turnout for our March 13 meeting, as the author of The Rainwater Secret, Monica Shaw, will be our guest. I’ll provide an overview of the book and she will offer a slideshow presentation along with questions & answers. Books will be available for purchase for $15.00, cash, check, or credit card. Since Monica is driving in from Dallas, we wanted to have a light luncheon for her and our food czar Bonnie Magee, is once again coordinating this for us. We’ll have an array of salads, casseroles, desserts, and deviled eggs and if you have volunteered to bring something, please email Bonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be asking for a head count so please RSVP to me by March 6 at email@example.com so we can coordinate the amount of food needed.
Books in Bloom luncheon will be held April 13, 2018 again at the Methodist Church in Athens. As you remember, this is the major fundraiser for the Henderson County Clint W. Murchison library. The speaker is Jeff Abbott, touted as one of the best thriller writers in the business. He’s from Austin and will be discussing his latest, Blame. Tickets are $50.00 per person, $400.00 for a table of 8. Bookers has one table full (Pat Faherty, Melanie Prebis, Rokhshie Malone, Beverly Dossett, Rebecca Brisendine, Patty Evans, Barbara Creach, and yours truly.) If you are interested in attending, please let me know and we’ll make that happen as well.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
March 13 The Rainwater Secret by Monica Shaw
Debut historical fiction by Dallas author based on the life of her great aunt, a missionary woman in Africa teaching leper children.
Home of Patty Evans
We are excited to announce the author will be joining us for the meeting
April 10 The Uncertain Season by Texas author Ann Howard Creel
Follows the lives of three women in the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston…one living a privileged life, her disgraced and flamboyant cousin, and an unnamed girl living on the streets.
Home of Sandy Molander
May 15 Change of date due to travel plans
To Everything A Season – Sherri Schaeffer, a debut set in Amish country in Lancaster Pennsylvania where two worlds collide forcing them together.
Home of Donna Walter
Summer Read: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha, “Patsy” becomes the keeper of the secrets and her father’s confidant after her mother’s death and his appointment as the American Minister to France.
“To learn about yourself you need to study how others respond to you…people can only make you feel the way you give them permission to.”