Monday, April 18, 2011

Three Heroes—Three Memoirs


Deval Patrick went from hardscrabble South Chicago to governor of Massachusetts, only the second black man elected governor of a US state.  A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life recounts his hard road from the bottom of life’s ladder to accomplishment’s heights.  A mix of good luck and genuine American tenacity made him the man he became, a genuine American success story.

Like another recent political prodigy, Governor Patrick grew up in a broken home, enduring prejudice.  Unlike too many peers, who acquiesced to their poor state, Patrick found meaning in schoolwork, and a teacher who became a mentor.  Good grades, hard work, and determination got him into Boston’s prestigious Milton Academy and the fast track for American success.

This memoir smacks of a political autobiography; betcha the Governor plans to run for Senate in 2012.  But considering what snoozers most political autobiographies are, Patrick infuses his with energy and humor.  He doesn't blush to admit he disliked his father growing up, and that he struggled to keep one foot in his heritage while studying in prestigious East Coast schools.  He doesn't make himself a saint.

Patrick draws several lessons from his life: make meaning of life by shifting your perspective.  You have ideals for a reason, so stick by them.  Perhaps most important, we’re judged not by what we believe, but by how we live.  Most unusually for political memoir, these lessons feel both authentic and well-earned.  This sets Patrick well above his ordinarily drab genre.

Like Patrick, Rose “Maria McCarthy” Anding overcame plenty to find the purpose in her life.  But as she reveals in High Heels, Honey Lips, and White Powder, she made her own bad choices.  She dragged herself in the mud.  And when her loved ones told her to pull her life together or get out, she found the strength to realize she couldn’t trust herself, and reach outward.

When Anding fled her faithless marriage, she wound up in Washington, DC, surrounded by the temptations of power and money.  She soon descended into cocaine, casual marriage, and surface prestige that concealed a rotting soul beneath.  Her culmination came when she found herself courted by DC mayor Marion Berry— and then found herself subpoenaed to his trial.

After years of struggle, the guidance of good counselors, and strong family love, Anding found her way back to life.  Now a Christian minister, Anding can tell her flock something few other ministers can say: don’t worry.  I’ve done far worse than you can even conceive, and God and my family still love me.  So what do you have to lose?

Anding’s memoir is oddly structured, in that she starts with her recovery, then flashes back to her collapse.  Veteran memoir readers may be taken aback by this quirk, which may draw you out of the moment.  But if you can get past Anding’s strange choice there, her touching, forthright memoir provides an unusually frank look at how far one person can fall and still get up again.

Like Anding, life took Shayne Moore in unexpected directions when she thought she had everything controlled.  Global Soccer Mom, which is also her blog title, reveals how a chance encounter with a childhood pop idol opened her eyes to the massive tragedy of global AIDS.  Now she knows that one stay-at-home mom has more power than she ever believed.

From her moment of epiphany, Moore plunged into AIDS activism, following the disease trail from Kenyan free clinics to Honduras shanties to the G8 conference in Scotland.  She meets celebrities like George Clooney and Julia Roberts, but seems to care more about the struggling children she helps.  Along the way, her fellow Christians dragged her down with pat moralism, while her fellow activists patronized her for her faith and the fact that she’s “just” a housewife.

But from that, and from hard work and prayer, Moore learned that the world will always stand in her way.  Now she doesn’t seek justification in the safe confines of Illinois suburbia.  The light that shines when a hungry child gets fed has become her meaning.  And she encourages her readers to join her effort to change the world.

Governor Patrick mines his life for lessons in belief, while Reverend Anding uses hers to model forgiveness and hope.  Shayne Moore hopes her life will call you to action for the world’s struggling and dispossessed.  All three give me something to hope for, and something to strive after.  I have three new heroes.

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