One way that Melissa and I refresh ourselves is reading. Although we don’t get to sit by pools or beaches here in flyover country, we still get in our share of summer books.
We recently read the debut novel by Vanderbilt Professor and award winning writer Debra Coleman Jeter, The Ticket. We didn’t know it going in, but the story is full of characters, scenes and ideas that will ring true to caregivers.We have a treat for you this week: the author was responsive to our care giving perspective and gave us an interview. We hope that our questions and her answers will encourage you, and we recomment The Ticket as a great read, summer time or any time.
Here’s the interview, and more information about the book and the author follow below.
T&M We don’t think it’s a spoiler to let on that The Ticket is a winning lottery ticket. Many folks think of those as “silver bullets” to solve life’s problems: “If I could just win the lottery…” Many caregivers get caught up in “silver bullet” claims of therapies or cures for problems like autism. What would you say to someone who is thinking “If only this one thing falls into place”?
DCJ As my husband sometimes says–quoting his dad, who lived to be 94—“It’s always something, and if it is not that, it’s something else.” I think we need to strive to be, as the apostle Paul said, content regardless of our circumstances. If we wait for the circumstances to be in perfect alignment, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment time and again. Perfection simply isn’t the nature of our existence or this earth. It’s natural, though, to hope for ways to improve our lot.
T&M We think that any caregiver who reads The Ticket will resonate with Tray’s words and thoughts, especially in her relationship with her mother. Do you think that caregivers are born or bred? Does Tray have a gift, or has she been enslaved by her circumstances?
DCJ I think it’s probably a little of both. We have lots of male caregiver role-models in my family on both sides, notably my father and my father-in-law. In the case of my father-in-law, his second son was damaged by forceps during a very difficult birth, resulting in a severe case of cerebral palsy. After his wife fell ill, my father-in-law became the primary caregiver. I think it was in his nature to be a loving father, but the circumstances certainly tested his level of commitment and he rose to amazing heights in that capacity. In the case of my father, he became the primary caregiver when my mother’s parents fell ill—first his father-in-law, then his mother-in-law, and now my mom. I think it is in his nature to take responsibility (more than in my mother’s, even though it was her parents), and he finds great personal reward in doing for others.
T&M The picture at the top of our blog shows an unkempt corner of our yard with a neighbor’s perfect lawn just over the fence. The Ticket has Julia, who seems perfect on first meeting. Many caregivers feel like our lives are a mess and everybody else has it all together. What would you say to people who think, “The grass is greener over there”?
DCJ In my experience, no one’s life is as flawless as we might think upon casual acquaintance. We can probably all think of one or two couples we once knew who seemed like the ideal match, but who ended up in divorce court. One of my favorite childhood books was Pollyanna. No matter how dire the circumstances, Pollyanna always found something to be glad about. Conversely, if we try, we can always something to complain about. Wouldn’t we rather be like Pollyanna?
T&M Christianity is our family’s foundation for care giving, but it comes with its share of open questions. Do you think there’s a way to tell when the sacrificial love or “agape” of the New Testament slips into what Jesus warns against, “Casting your pearls before swine”?
DCJ This is a tough one. Our elders at my church struggle with decisions about helping people to help themselves, as opposed to giving handouts. As a parent, we want the best for our kids, but we want them to learn to fend for themselves so we don’t do their homework for them. My mother is having more and more trouble getting around and doing simple chores; but if my dad does too much for her, she will let him and go downhill even faster. I think we have to address each case individually based on the specifics, with lots of prayer, and ultimately we may still not know.
T&M This line from The Ticket echoes a lament that we hear from almost every care giver: “Is it just me or is everybody cruelest to the one person who gives them the most unconditional love?” The character who voices it is feeling remorse for being cruel, but most care givers have times when they feel on the bad end of the cruelty – as if our sacrifices are spit upon. Any words of encouragement or insight you can share?
DCJ Your reward may not be immediate, or even in the near future. But I believe it will come, either in this life or in the next one (or both). It seems likely that when your reward on earth is less, your reward in heaven will be greater.
T&M The Ticket is full of characters, situations and dialogue that will ring authentic to care givers. Where did you go for insight? Are there personal experiences upon which you draw that you can share with us?
DCJ My mother had manic depressive disorder when I was a child (more often called bipolar disease these days), so I experienced some of what Tray does firsthand. My father has been her primary caregiver; so I’ve also had the opportunity to observe him and, as mentioned in answer to #2 above, my father-in-law. My mother sometimes jokes: “It’s more blessed to give than receive. But receiving is good enough for me.” Are some people natural born givers and others receivers? I have to wonder, but I also believe we can become more giving with time and prayer and God’s help even if it isn’t in our nature.
T&M Thank you for your time, and most of all for a wonderful book.
DCJ I’m so glad you found things in my novel you could relate to.
About Debra Coleman Jeter:
A Vanderbilt University professor, Debra Coleman Jeter has published fiction and nonfiction in popular magazines, including Working Woman, New Woman, Self, Home Life, Savvy, Christian Woman, and American Baby. Her story, “Recovery,” won first prize in a Christian Woman short story competition, and her nonfiction book “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor was a finalist in the 2007 USA Book News Awards. She is a co-writer of the screenplay for Jess + Moss, a feature film which premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, screened at nearly forty film festivals around the world, and captured several international awards. She lives in Clarksville, Tennessee, with her husband.