by Sue Monk Kidd
Found on the shelves of our new home, again, a book I would not have selected had I read the cover, but one I couldn’t read fast enough once I started.
I spent most of my adult years reading medical thrillers (think Robin Cook) and legal thrillers (John Grisham), and mostly avoided anything that would have led to thinking about feelings. Coming from a dysfunctional childhood with lots of baggage best left packed, I avoided connecting to my emotional side. Then my kids grew up, I became ill and suffered for 2 years, and I suddenly understood that the healthiest thing I could do to enjoy the rest of my life was to face the demons I battled and embrace every emotion, even the painful ones. As the ability to read has returned, I’m feeling even more connected to books and more grateful to authors who invest of themselves for my pleasure.
“The Secret Life of Bees” takes place in the 60s in South Carolina. Although the main character is a young white girl, Lily Owens, her much needed support system ends up being blacks in a time when racial unrest was prevalent. As I write that sentence, I should probably cross it out as the current United States continues to battle its own demons of racial divide. As a white person raised in Jersey, I do not have the emotional background of having to fight for my civil liberties, yet Monk made me connect to her characters in a way that hurt. I hurt for the country then; I hurt for us now.
There is mystery surrounding Lily. She lost her mom at a young age, and the reader can only make guesses through most of the story how that occurred. What we are sure of, however, is the loss of mom, and life with an angry 1960s white farmer father, is painfully hard. She feels unloved. And that is where I connected closest to Lily. My childhood did include a mom, but a mom with 3 husbands and siblings only partially related. A mom who might as well have been absent, and a stepfather who didn’t know how to be a dad. Up until the last 4 years, I can honestly say I would have defined myself as unlovable. Unworthy. The catalyst for loss and never on solid ground when it came to faith in the world around me.
Once I realized my connection to Lily, I was absorbed by Monk’s writing. If I were a highlighting woman, this book would have looked like the sun when I finished because I wanted to capture so much of the wisdom being shared with Lily by the beekeeping mom-substitute, August Boatwright. As I read the passages there were times when I just had to stop because I couldn’t read through the tears. I’m sure the author intended to evoke emotion, but I’m also sure she wrote this book just for me.
I could fill the rest of this post with prophetic quotes from this book, but I want you to read and discover for yourself, with your baggage and perspective. I’m sure each verse would mean something quite different for every reader. If I had to choose a favorite, this would be it:
“The world will give you that once in awhile, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.”
For the Reading around the states challenge, this book takes place in South Carolina.