Book Review: The One and Only by Emily Giffin

The One and Only.jpg(Contains spoilers)

From GoodreadsThirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.


Emily Giffin is one of the few authors I look for. I loved this book. I listened to it on audio and kept itching to drive my car so I could hear more! I was so surprised when nearly all book reviews I read after the fact were negative, saying the story was creepy and the characters needed more definition. The expectations I had raised by the book description were different than reality, as the story really centers around Shea developing romantic feelings for her best friend’s father (her own father figure), Coach Carr.

I’m not a sports fan but I felt Shea’s love of football gave her definition. I find myself relying on my own view of the world to interpret the rest of the world, so it makes sense that Shea does the same. Her entire life is wrapped up in football: friends, job, social life, boyfriend, etc. That is the world she lives in. I have very little capacity for understanding football, but I didn’t feel that hindered my reading. There was enough description that I could follow the sporty scenes. I feel Shea receives dimension in the way she relates the personalities of the people around her: her mother as an imitator, Lucy as a fiery fashionista, Miller as a slacker, Coach Carr who can do no wrong. I can relate to struggling to see the world through other lenses. A large part of who we are is how we view other people.

Maybe if Shea had been younger, the romantic relationship between her and Coach would have felt creepy to me. Instead, I saw this as an example of how we transition into adulthood. I still have a hard time seeing myself as an adult sometimes and calling my parent’s friends by their first names, but I am in my 30s now, like Shea is. I am raising children, I’m a consumer, an employer, and I represent the driving forces in our world. I’m not even up and coming anymore. I see now that even though a person’s skin gets looser or their knees hurt, or even if they have grown children, they can still feel like a young person inside, experiencing romance and infatuation, feeling hope for a new future. As I am experiencing my 30s, I’m looking back at what my parents dealt with in their 30s and realizing that, though all my faith was in them to protect me through some hard stuff, they were young people struggling to hold it together. Coach is just a man with some life behind him. It’s mind blowing to realize that every child we influence will one day become a peer and, if we’re lucky, a friend.

There were lots of times I didn’t like how Shea handled things, like when she provoked her boyfriend, Ryan, during a borderline  domestic violence scene. She was absolutely right to get away from him and not give him any more chances to “change” but I was sure that whole thing was going to lead to Ryan pressing charges against Coach and ruining his whole career. By no means do I blame her for her boyfriend’s temper, but she should not have lied to him, nor should she have hit him as she did. However, I have often stayed too long, talked too much, let my emotions run away, lied to get out of something, etc. It was agonizing thinking, “shut up, get out, just tell him/her!” but realizing the scene was reality. In the long run, Shea actually acted much more wisely than many people who end up on Jerry Springer, or just the local bar!

In another confession, Coach shares that one of Ryan’s former girlfriends came to him 15 years before claiming Ryan abused and raped her and Coach did not report it because, he said, he genuinely did not believe her. He did the wrong thing. I feel the book should have dealt more seriously with the abuse issue or left it all together. I don’t feel the characters were necessarily wrong in the outcome but a big issue like this can’t be tidily swept away. Even so, I don’t feel this destroyed Coach’s character. It seemed he took responsibility for his mistake and tried to do what he could to make it right. We all do wrong things. It takes a big person to admit it. There could still be consequences for what Coach did or didn’t do but I feel his character demonstrates a desire to do the right thing and to not make that mistake again.

Finally, when it came to telling Coach’s daughter, Lucy (Shea’s best friend), about their relationship, I was going to freak if Shea chose Coach over a 33 year friendship. I had one of those that did end and I mourn it every day, sometimes very painfully. For Coach and Shea to have a relationship, there was so much to consider. Age difference does not make it wrong, if both people understand what the consequences are (fertility, mortality, etc). However, I don’t believe that “love conquers all” or whatever. The terms are all muddled to begin with. Real love is choice and commitment. Feelings of romance, attraction, infatuation, etc are real and lovely, but they come and go. Relationships (even just friendships or acquaintanceships) need chemistry to have depth, but when you “don’t feel like it” you still have to be loyal, and that comes from a choice. Coach’s late wife, Connie Carr, apparently made lots of choices to love and support her husband. I’m sure she didn’t always feel like it. Then Coach watched her die. That’s excruciating. That’s love. Love hurts. Love is not the emotional high at the beginning of a relationship. Love is doing the hard thing for the other person. Giving up a lifelong friendship and the relationship with one’s godchildren for the intense feelings of a relationship that has the potential to destroy everything you have ever known is asinine. I was relieved they really did do the right thing. Romance is not everything. You don’t need a relationship to be a fulfilled person. Even a broken heart can be poured out to serve other people. Coach’s comments about how you never know what life will bring were so wise, showing the benefit of his life experience. That might be one great reason TO be in a relationship with someone older. He can enjoy the feelings but temper them with wisdom.

I greatly appreciate that there was nothing immoral about Coach Carr and Shea’s relationship. They did not cheat on anyone, they were considerate of the people around them, they didn’t even have sex in the story, and they respected Lucy’s feelings.

I can see how a relationship like this has all kinds of implications that have to be worked out, but we should all be so lucky to find someone who loves us so unconditionally, who has been part of our messes and accepts us anyway, and who treats us with such tenderness.

I loved this story, just as I have loved all of Emily Giffin’s books and I appreciate a new perspective on romance.

Child Evaluation

2017 Easter - Tulips 186As a preschool teacher, child development fascinates me. As I am currently homeschooling my four-year-old nephew, I love watching him learn and evaluating why he does certain things.

We recently visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival where he enjoyed the huge windmill at Rosengaard garden. He has seen a windmill on Thomas the Tank Engine, but it was generally a new thing for him. He kept asking to go back to see it, but kept calling it a “coldmile”. It took me some tries to figure out what he was saying, and then I started thinking about why he would confuse “windmill” with “coldmile”.

It occurred to me that he likely did not know what a “mill” was. As adults we understand that a mill is something that turns, usually for the purpose of grinding or moving something, as in a pepper mill or a grain mill. He does not know that machine mills move and grind grain, or that a watermill uses a water wheel to produce power. For my nephew, the closest word he could think of was “mile”. Through movies like Cars and through conversations about where things are, mile is a word that sounds like mill but is familiar to him.

Thus, he replaced the word “mill” with another word which is associated by phonetic similarity.

The word “cold” is a weather term included on our preschool weather chart. “Windy” is also on the chart, so he associates those words because he sees them together. He heard the word “cold” nearly every day for the first six months of school, while “windy” only came up a few times. Though “wind” is a familiar word, it is not as familiar to him as “cold”.

Thus, he replaced the word “wind” with another word he associated through the categorical status of “weather terms”.

Windmill –> coldmile.

Amazing how the brain works.

Birthdays are Important

Birthdays are important to our family. They are the one day each person is celebrated exclusively each year. As small people in a big world, it is important to put others first and minimize our own needs and desires whenever possible. When a birthday rolls around, it is fun to be in the spotlight.
Birthdays also provide valuable opportunities for the hosts to show value to the friends in our lives. A child’s birthday is an opportunity for that child to learn to be a gracious host. As adults, my sister and I love making a party a fun and special occasion to share memories with our guests. We always go all out with the theme and make lots of memories, including educational activities for the kids. Both of us have the love language gifts, which is why we love showering our guests with fun trinkets and memories.

My sister and I also each have the receptive love language of quality time. When our friends simply show up, it communicates that our efforts, and as an extension, our personal strengths and contributions, are valued.

Kid parties can be tedious, especially as kids get older and are invited to so many. There are obviously certain priorities that take precedence over a  birthday party, such as illness or keeping prior commitments. Plus, you might need to choose parties for people who are constant in your life as opposed to every single classmate. However, an invitation to a birthday party is an expression that someone wants to share a special event with you. Attending is not just an opportunity to take advantage of whatever the party is offering, it is a way of showing the host that you value that person and want to support something that is important to them.

As you encounter parties in your life, I hope you will learn to look not at the event but at the person. Yes, things come up, but don’t avoid parties because you don’t want to. Definitely do not cancel last minute. If you can’t afford a present, who cares? You are the present because your attendance communicates a care and value so much more valuable than STUFF. Let your time be the present and let your attendance show that the host is important.

Be the Change

I hate small talk. As a cashier at a grocery store, small talk has become a big part of my life and it literally makes me physically ill. How many conversations can you have about the weather? I actually look up conversation topics so I don’t have to have the same conversation 200 times per day.

Even so, it pains me to walk into the staff room and hear coworkers complain about customers. I have heard my coworkers complain about having to make conversation with customers, stating that customers often give too much information. I know everyone needs an outlet and, thankfully, I have seen each of my coworkers do their job well. Working with people is difficult and exhausting, but it is such an amazing opportunity.

Besides, what is wrong with Too Much Information? This is the stuff that gets to the heart of a person. It is about really getting to understand who that person is. Asking real questions – ones that open the door for discomfort and disagreement – are opportunities for you to learn something new, or even just to realize the state of the culture we live in. What do you do when you only have two minutes with a person who just told you their husband is dying and that is why their family is in town? How do you respond to the person who complains about having to wait and then turns out to being the slowest person on the planet?

The exciting part is that you then get to decide who to be. You can be the kind person who listens. You can be the person who responds graciously even if you are insulted. You can silently evaluate the character you are seeing in the person in front of you and decide if you want to be like that or if you want to behave differently. You get to decide to treat that person the way you would like to be treated.

Every conversation is an opportunity to show each person they are worthy of the same kindness and respect as any other person. You get to reflect that a person is worthy of care because they are a valuable human being, regardless of what they have or how they look. You might even get to influence our entire culture by either tactfully correcting poor ideas and behavior, or by demonstrating what our culture should look like. You get to learn from people of all walks of life and then take the information to shape who you are.

Every interaction is an opportunity to be the person you want to be and to be grateful to the person in front of you, regardless of how that opportunity presents itself.

The Holocaust Didn’t Happen In a Day

How often do you look around and ask yourself “How could this happen?” I am often appalled at the place our lives and culture end up and I am flabbergasted that we could allow certain things to happen. However, most of it can be traced back to choices made long ago which led to where we are.

Through a chain of events, I have taken an interest in learning about Dr. Josef Mengele of the Auschwitz concentration camps during the Holocaust. This German-born man became fascinated with the idea of developing a supreme race of blond-haired, blue-eyed Germans, and set about performing genetic tests to discover the secret of racial perfection. His subjects of choice were Jewish twins, who he plucked from the crowds at Auschwitz as their families marched to the gas chambers and crematoriums, believing twins held the secret to understanding genetic mutations.children-of-the-flames

I received a book for Christmas telling the stories of several of the twins who survived these experiments. As I see certain aspects of my world imploding – for example the division over our current president, culture shifts regarding gender, behavior of children, etc – I want to know how to fix them. Perhaps the Holocaust seems like an extreme example of problems plaguing our world, but this book made me realize how any trend – good or bad, mild or extreme – gets started. There are many principles to be pulled out of a story like Josef Mengele’s and the Nazi party in general.

First, any change begins with an idea. In this book, Lucette Matalon Lagnado states “His [Mengele’s] apprenticeship as a mass murderer formally began not on the selection lines of the concentration camp but in the classrooms of the University of Munich” (1991, p42).

In Mengele’s case, his murderous behavior started with Nazi ideals that were based in the theory of evolution. Adolph Hitler was gaining popularity in the late 1920s, when Mengele was a teenager, and nearly all academic subjects at that time were beginning to lean toward the racial superiority values of the Nazi party. By the time Mengele entered college in 1930, he had already been groomed through the Grossdeutscher Jugendbund (Greater Germany Youth Movement), a youth club popular throughout Germany.  Langado states,

 “The messianic quality of social Darwinism seems to have appealed to the young Mengele. His writings suggest that he was especially struck by their use of the phrase ‘the fate of mankind’. From his youthful encounter with their distorted ideals, to his old age, a weary and broken exile, Mengele would continue to feel a personal allegiance to the social Darwinists. At the university, the questions of the ‘biological quality of mankind’ may have been esoteric to most of Mengele’s classmates. But for him, it was apparently a clarion call. His account of the period suggests he was deeply upset by the fact that the lower classes were having many children, while those of impeccable genetic stock were too busy even to marry” (p43).

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Trends begin with one person or group publicizing their ideas, and the easiest way to make something take hold is by training children to grab hold of them. Children learn whether or not you know you are teaching them and they see the behaviors we may not even know we are displaying.

Second, a person’s behavior and values are wrapped up in their paradigm. When evaluating a person’s behavior, the issue at hand may not be the real issue.

I made this point recently when responding to a post on a writing forum. The person asked “Is euthanasia good or bad?” People weighed in with their varying opinions, but I told the writer that it all rests on a person’s view of the value of life. For example, most Christians would hold that no one has the right to take any life willingly for any reason (capital punishment being an exception with precident: a topic for another discussion). On the other hand, many people these days believe in evolution, natural selection, Darwinism, etc. in which case, humans are an accidental byproduct and do not have any inherent value or purpose.

Herein lays the paradigm. If life is valuable and belongs to God, then only God has a right to give or take it. If life is an accident and doesn’t matter one way or the other, then euthanasia, abortion, murder, or any host of other things are inconsequential.

In the case of the Nazi party, the references to Darwinism are very telling. The Nazi belief that some races were superior to others does not take into account any inherent value to a human life, genetics aside. The same was true of the slave trade, and any other example of ethnic struggle in history.

As I’m reading this story, I am relating to how Mengele must have thought and felt. He likely felt vindicated in his behavior by seeing Jews as lesser beings, valuable only for research but not for their own sake. Of course I don’t agree with this, but perhaps I can relate to the intensity with which Mengele likely held to his beliefs. Perhaps he should have known better. Or should he have, when he was taught that he was on the right track?

While we could point a finger and say that what Mengele and other Nazi’s did was atrocious, fighting a battle is not the same as fighting the war. The concentration camps were not the real issue. The issue was the core beliefs held by those in charge. Those beliefs trickled down to other soldiers who were converted to those beliefs, and actions were carried out by imprisoned people who complied out of fear. Even further back, the root of all this were principles founded in Darwinism that people are only as valuable as their genetics. And if life is a cosmic accident, who gets to decide how to live it? If there is no value, it doesn’t matter what anyone does.

Third, because of this, there needs to be a concrete set of principles we live by. Without a definitive guideline by which we set our standards, there is no reason we cannot all make up our own rules.

The world is full of social problems and there is no easy answer to any of them. It is simple to say “you should think this” or “you should do this”, but these issues are rooted much deeper than they seem. They speak to ‘who makes the rules’?

That is why it is important for each person to take it upon him or herself to know WHY they believe what they do. I don’t just mean choosing beliefs that make sense to you. I mean choosing beliefs that have a foundation. Who says so? Why do they say that? What support is there for that? Science and religion are both places to start for these answers and, as far as I’m concerned, I can at least respect a person who knows why they believe something, even if I don’t agree with them. However, simply saying ‘That’s how it is’ or ‘you’re wrong’ does not answer any of these questions. We need to do the research and make sure that the things we believe are actually factual.

In so doing, we must realize that life is not about any one person having everything or feeling good or being in power. Marriage is not about one person being comfortable. Business is not about one person having as much as he can get. Life has a bigger purpose than that and the choices people make affect other people.

Conversely, while life is not about one person, one person can make a huge impact on many lives. That is why we must be aware of the logical consequences of the choices we make. The changes that are made to our society are leading us somewhere. Are the tiny steps we make today and the views we hold leading us somewhere beneficial? Or are our choices opening doors to darker places than we are prepared to go? And are we even paying attention?

Lagnado, Lucette Matalon, and Sheila Cohn Dekel, Children of the Flames, Penguin, 1991.

Unsinkable

We all think we are unsinkable in the beginning. Most of us have to learn the hard way that we are not.

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I was 15 when James Cameron’s movie, Titanic, came out. Like the passengers on the ship, I was embarking on a new life. I had just moved to a new town, reluctantly breaking away from everything I had ever known but finding a new identity.  I had freedom to explore my world and I had my first boyfriend, with whom I fashioned a future where I could realize my lifetime dreams of being a lover, mother, advocate, apologist, and strong and graceful woman. As I sat in the theatre soaking in the footage of the wreckage and watching it transform into its former glory, my friends heard me gasp and suck in my breath. The ghost of its majesty and the mystery of its life overwhelmed me. I longed to feel the freedom and adventure Rose Dewitt Bukater finds aboard that ship and, as far as I was concerned, I had found that love. Each time Rose and Jack were separated by rushing water I felt my heart stop. When Jack finally died in the frigid water, I wept.

I found a renewed interest in the Titanic as I revisited the movie and consumed  special features about the making. Perhaps this was sparked by a find of a coffee table book called “Ghosts of the Abyss” by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall about their experiences diving to the Titanic site with James Cameron himself. A great deal of the movie Titanic is digitized. This is impressive for how beautiful and detailed the movie is and gives a deeper respect for the talent of the actors, who showed remarkable reactions to things they were not actually seeing. It does take away something from the immersion in the ship on screen. An amazing thing about Titanic, however, is that it really happened. Perhaps many of the lines and details of the movie are imagined, but the joy, magic, confidence, security, hope, zeal, mistake, terror, and tragedy are real.

As I have longed to put my thoughts into a blog again, I have struggled to sum them up into one tidy name and theme. My previous blog “Thirty Going on Thirteen” came at a time of change, self-searching, and healing. When I transitioned to “There’s So Much to Say”, I needed a more mature platform to share a variety of ideas. However, when I began believing that I had nothing worth saying at all, both of those blogs were archived.

Now I realize I am like Titanic. I have always been a ship of dreams, full of potential and promise, secure, certain of a brighter future.  When I recently hit an iceberg, I took on water instantly and nearly sank completely. In the process of evaluating the damage, I realized that I have hit many icebergs, and, in fact, I was made of the wrong material to begin with. Ornate fixtures, false superiority, and meager preparations were all a farce. This ship was never destined for paradise.

I vacillate between whether I am ready to divulge the skeletons in my closet or not. This blog will no doubt cover many topics – whatever comes to mind. Many of the thoughts I entertain involve evaluation of the things I see, identifying the folly of the ideas underlying them. We all believe we are unsinkable in the beginning. We are always looking for something bigger, better, progressive, more tolerant, more efficient. Nothing is ever perfect, but some ideas are better than others and it is only with time that we find that our unsinkable ships were never what we thought they would be. Unfortunately, the wreckage of the unsinkable ships last much longer than we would like and the disaster often comes to haunt us. I know mine has. But those are stories for another time.