I wrote this blog yesterday and realized in light of the precious lives lost in Florida this was worth sharing today…
Kylee and I decided to read the Hunger Games trilogy. I don’t read a ton of fiction, but Kylee devours it. To avoid her 7 book series that contains 600-800 pages per book…I suggested a more digestible option. We had a playful discussion surrounding Team Katniss/Gale (Kale) vs. Team Katniss/Peeta (Keeta)…but I was most profoundly struck by the gritty humanity and life that Katniss lived. The author caught me off guard with her side conversations about the physical death of her father and emotional death of her mother. But I was most astonished by how well she covered the heavy themes of loss and (importantly) survival after loss.
Initially, Katniss’s relationship with her mom caught my attention.
“Slowly mother returned to us. She began to clean and cook and preserve food I brought in the winter…Prim was thrilled to have her back , but I kept watching for her to disappear on us again. I didn’t trust her. And some small gnarled place inside of me hated her for her weakness, for her neglect, for the months she had put us through. Prim forgave her, but I had taken a step back, and put up a wall to protect myself from needing her, and nothing would ever be the same between us again.” (Hunger Games)
Unexpected…nothing I thought I would find in this book and yet so very raw and human. Any child who has had a parent who has hollowed out (become a shell of who they were) understands these words. A parent who due to life circumstances or choice has become unable to function…and the child is left to take the place of the parent. Any child who’s parent endured hardship/loss (themselves) but was not able to recover…understands. Any child who watched their parent choose drugs or drinks to cover their anxiety or pain…and in so doing became unavailable to the child they brought in to this world…he resonates with Katniss’s words. The words grip us…and (like Katniss) we the little survivors make vows. In one fell swoop Katniss lost her father to death…and her mother…even though she remained alive. So many children live this way…little survivors.
But certainly Kylee could not be as impacted by words like this or others. We were both enjoying the story but I was finding deeper meaning and a story that I think Suzanne Collins absolutely intended to tell. The story of loss and coping with unfathomable grief drew me in. I felt the disorientation that Katniss felt as she returned to a district that had been destroyed. I understood the sedation and how her raw pain truly could not cope with all that she had seen and endured in her short lifetime. I was reminded of the dark world we live in with similar greed, hunger for power, control, violence, and war. Where oppression is very real and poverty and gluttony exist in extremes. No one is exempt from the depravity of this world…fictional or otherwise. In those moments of utter despair where confusion sets in and all truth seems twisted…Katniss did an incredible thing…she spoke reminders over her life:
“I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated…I am Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped…” (MJ, 4)
Isn’t that our best bet for our lives? When we are most disoriented, broken, confused on who we are…on who God is…on what we believe about ourselves or others? What a beautiful reminder to return to the simplest truths…and if we cannot remember them for ourselves, it might be wise to find a friend or loved one to help us make our list. I have desperately needed those reminders over the past few years post-Uganda. But any phase of grief, loss, or pain; any time we feel stuck or unable to recover, it would best serve us to return to simple basic truth. So very wise. Again…was Kylee grasping this? I hope so.
The songs of the survivors were disturbing. How does one endure the unimaginable…and live to tell the story? Day in and day out it is the story of the survivor that inspires us. How were they not crushed by the weight of this world? I think of my friend who was abducted and forced to serve as a child soldier in the LRA. How does he escape and then re-engage in this world…as a husband and father? Survivors endure unthinkable pain, loss, grief and they live to tell the stories. Speaking of stories, I was reminded of Peeta’s book…with art…telling the stories of the games and the lives lost. And the book they created together to never forget. Oh this is a beautiful picture of grace and how I believe so many of us are transformed…through expressing and not repressing our pain.
I appreciated the epilogue reminding us that Katniss’s nightmares remained. There are things that create permanent damage, scars, and there is nothing this side of heaven to fully wipe away the tears or restore us to wholeness. But in the end Katniss shares what she does to survive those nightmares…and what she will tell her children on a particularly hard day:
“…on a bad morning, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do.” (MJ, Epilogue)
I have a list too. My list is a list of all the things I am grateful for…and daily I write it. The words lifts me…they take the tight grip of grief and despair and loosen one finger at a time. It seems to keep some of the haze and darkness away…it is a necessary list for survivors.
I am so thankful for this trilogy and the words that jumped off the page and spoke to my pain and story of survival. I am convinced that this author knew and understands loss and pain in ways many may have missed. We enjoyed the story…the love triangle…the conflicts and the guides who carried our heroine through. But I can only imagine…with the heavy themes of loss, grief, and survival…the author’s story (or the story of someone’s she loves) is embedded here in these pages…and I am so very grateful. Her loss is not lost on me.
Grateful for you,
(photo cred: http://hiconsumption.com/2017/07/best-survival-schools/)