I’m sitting in my dining room. There is a storm brewing. The wind is blowing the curtains in front me into a frenzy. It matches my mood perfectly as I finish reading This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman. I inhaled this powerful, and intense memoir, at times laughing, others horrified and humbled, and then moved beyond what words can easily express.
I’m left with the intensity of emotion it stirred, feeling equal parts joy and deep sadness.
In this memoir, Coleman shares her incredible story. Every word, every image she depicts has been woven into my heart and I feel so full and connected to it. The world she describes is intense and vivid, each phrase elegant and evocative and filled with hope, love, and pain.
The story follows the path of her family’s back-to-the-land ideal, as it shaped and defined her childhood, leading ultimately to tragedy, profound loss and then peace. She tells the tale of her parents building a home with their own hands, and their goal to live self-sufficiently from the land. She eloquently traces their history from it’s idealistic beginnings, to the growing challenge and hard work of homesteading. As I turned the page on each chapter, I was drawn further in, more invested in this family’s struggle, happiness and aspirations. I simply couldn’t put the book down. I felt every desire and every sadness. It was a veritable roller-coaster of emotion from the first page, through to the end.
Each piece of the story comes together through fact and history, whilst she engages her reader with the magnificence of her storytelling:
That my parents had chose this lifestyle over an easier one wouldn’t matter in the moment when the goats had eaten the spring lettuce, there was nothing left in the root cellar, the drinking water muddy with runoff, and there was no money under the couch for gas to get to town—not to mention that Jeep’s registration had expired, and we had no savings account, trust fund, or health insurance policy, no house in town to fall back on. We were living the way much of the world actually lives. On the other hand, we didn’t have phone, water or electrical bills; health insurance premiums; or a mortgage, a car payment, or any other monthly payment, for that matter. No one could come to shut off our utilities and take away our home…
…in the precarious balance of Mama’s and Papa’s emotional investment in our lifestyle. To succeed at this life, they had to constantly feed their vision of it, or it would wither and die.
Coleman’s story resonates not only because of the beauty of her words, but because she tells the tale with raw honesty. She describes the real challenges and celebrates the joys, depicting life at its best and its worst. She talks of her mother’s battle with depression explaining that her mother “felt…other people’s emotions as if inside herself. It doubled the confusion in her mind. She needed quiet to sift through the feelings and throw out the ones that weren’t hers. So she did what she always did in times of overload; she checked out.” She reflects on her father’s long struggle with hyperthyroidism and tendency toward workaholism, and her own loneliness until the birth of her sister, Heidi, and later Clara. And ends with a deep exploration of her family’s tumultuous journey to recover from loss.
…for so long I was working to prevent just this from happening, the falling and falling apart, but when it actually happens, you realize that once spilled your life never goes back in the same way. It isn’t supposed to. It’s only then that you know you are alive, and that despite uncertainties, you will survive.
Every word in this book is a gift, a connection to the purity and wildness that marks all of our lives. As you read you’ll question yourself, laugh out loud and look for a deeper sense of what matters. More than that, you’ll feel a deep kinship and satisfaction that in some way we are all in this together despite, or perhaps because, our journey’s are so diametrically different.
(Full disclosure: Harper Collins sent me a review copy of This Life is in Your Hands)