‘All We Had’

‘She was only thirty-two, but the weight of a hundred hard lifetimes was etched across her face. Last winter’s cough had never fully gone away. The rattle in her lungs had worsened. And no amount of makeup could cover the heavy darkness that had settled beneath her eyes.

My mother began to weep. She dropped her head and her shoulders shook. I could see the winged bones of her back beneath the thin fabric of her dress. A length of hem hung below her knees, weighted down by the safety pin that had held it up for days.

“Don’t cry,” I said. When my mother cried, nothing else existed but her sadness, and her sadness ran so deep that if I didn’t stop it, it would drown us both.’

from All We Had by Annie Weatherwax

I have just finished reading this novel. It was so well written that I read it in two days. Usually I listen to audiobooks because reading is tiring, but this was worth it (it also isn’t available, as yet, on Audible). The excerpt above struck me as both one of the most beautiful passages that I have ever read, and also as heart-strikingly true. That final sentence is something I think many children can relate to, and many adults as they look back to childhood, particularly if they grew up in a dysfunctional home. I wonder if my own children ever felt that way, when I was going through those dark, dark days? I tried so hard to keep going, for their sake, but I was profoundly broken. I hope they didn’t, but at least I can thank God that those days are long gone.

What I loved about this novel was the simple, yet painstaking, portrayal of flawed, broken people and the ways in which we can overcome, at least in part, the brokenness. I loved that it was never sentimental, yet the author always tackled pain, grief, love, despair with a direct, honest and humorous approach. I loved the fact that, despite the darkness within the novel, ultimately it proved to hold a message of hope and a quiet, unspoken focus on the idea that in the end,  the only thing that matters is love one another. I guess, really, I was reminded of myself and my own life, and all that I have overcome, by grace.

On the final page the main character writes:

‘The meek shall inherit the earth, the Bible says, but how many have to suffer first? Where I come from, children are wrenched away from homes. Men are disposable, boys are lost, women are beaten or killed. Little girls are left quaking at the sight of so much blood. And we blame them when they become less than perfect mothers. The meek shall inherit the earth, but why can’t we just share it?’ 

A pertinent question, I think, for all who profess to follow Jesus.