March 20, 2010
Lift by Kelly Corrigan
Nonfiction - Memoir
2010 Voice (Hyperion)
Finished on 3/8/10 and... 3/19/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)
No matter when and why this comes to your hands, I want to put down on paper how things started with us.
Written as a letter to her children, Kelly Corrigan's Lift is a tender, intimate, and robust portrait of risk and love; a touchstone for anyone who wants to live more fully. In Lift, Corrigan weaves together three true and unforgettable stories of adults willing to experience emotional hazards in exchange for the gratification of raising children.
Lift takes its name from hang gliding, a pursuit that requires flying directly into rough air, because turbulence saves a glider from "sinking out." For Corrigan, this wisdom—that to fly requires chaotic, sometimes even violent passages—becomes a metaphor for all of life's most meaningful endeavors, particularly the great flight that is parenting.
Corrigan serves it up straight—how mundanely and fiercely her children have been loved, how close most lives occasionally come to disaster, and how often we fall short as mothers and fathers. Lift is for everyone who has been caught off guard by the pace and vulnerability of raising children, to remind us that our work is important and our time limited.
Like Ann Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, Lift is a meditation on the complexities of a woman's life, and like Corrigan's memoir, The Middle Place, Lift is boisterous and generous, a book readers can wait to share.
After finishing Lift, I did something I've never done before. I turned around and read it again. Not on the same day, but within a couple of weeks. The first reading took place over the course of two days. I wanted to savor this slim little book, taking in the freshness of Kelly's new work, wishing with each turned page that it was longer. The second reading took place yesterday afternoon. Snuggled under a blanket on the couch, snow gently falling outside, Post-it Note flags in hand, I began to read. And in my head I could hear Kelly's voice, sharing her stories with her young daughters, feeling a tug in my chest and a lump in my throat as I read the words that I knew would cause her to choke back her own tears.
It's tempting to share all of my favorite passages from Lift, but I have a feeling Kelly would frown upon me quoting her entire book! So here are just a few samples:
I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you'll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won't remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don't even know about yourselves. We won't come back here.
You'll remember middle school and high school, but you'll have changed by then. You changing will make me change. That means you won't ever know me as I am right now—the mother I am tonight and tomorrow, the mother I've been for the last eight years, every bath and book and birthday party, gone. It won't hit you that you're missing this chapter of our story until you see me push your child on a swing or untangle his jump rope or wave a bee away from his head and think, Is this what she was like with me?
Georgia, you hate it when I cry. All my conspicuous emoting turns you off. That fed-up look you give me at teacher retirement parties or soccer games or the winter concert is partly how I know that I am only a few years away from exasperating you by the way I apply my lipstick or talk to waiters or answer the phone or drive or walk or breathe.
People rarely rave about their childhoods and it's no wonder. So many mistakes are made.
I see how that happens now, how we all create future work for our kids by checking our cell phones while you are mid-story or sticking you in the basement to watch a movie because we love you but we don't really want to be with you anymore that day, or coming unhinged over all manner of spilt milk—wet towels, unflushed toilets, lost brand-new! whatevers.
This tug-of-war often obscures what's also happening between us. I am your mother, the first mile of your road. Me and all my obvious and hidden limitations. That means that in addition to possibly wrecking you, I have the chance to give to you what was given to me: a decent childhood, more good memories than bad, some values, a sense of tribe, a run at happiness. You can't imagine how seriously I take that—even as I fail you. Mothering you is the first thing of consequence that I have ever done.
I remember having an awful conversation once, long before I became a mother, about whether it would be worse to lose a baby or a ten-year-old or a twenty-year-old, and so on. Why people think about these things, I don't know, but we do. We hover around the edges of catastrophe—trading headlines, reading memoirs about addiction and disease and abuse, watching seventeen seasons of ER. I said it would hurt the most to lose a twenty-year-old, because you'd have loved them so much longer and your attachment would be so much more specific. Babies love everyone and everyone loves them. But twenty-year-olds? They won't lean into just anyone. You have to earn any sliver of intimacy you share with them. Some pale memory of trust and connection has to hold against the callous disregard that is adolescence. And at twenty, they are just on their way back to you.
I love this book. It spoke to me on so many levels and I found myself nodding my head in agreement or recognition at least a dozen times. After I finished the first reading, I went to work and couldn't stop talking about what I'd just read. I found beautiful passages and read them aloud to coworkers. I promptly put four copies in the top tray on my endcap, eager to share my enthusiasm with my favorite customers. I made a mental note of friends and relatives I thought might also enjoy the book. And what timing! Tucked in a small basket with a bottle of perfume or lotion, and a little box of Godiva chocolate, Lift, with its warm and honest testimony of a mother's love, would make a perfect Mother's Day gift.
I rarely ever read the jacket blurbs or author endorsements until after I've read a book, so I was quite surprised to see the comparison to Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. About halfway into Lift, I had that exact same thought and even went so far as to go upstairs to find my copy of Gift of the Sea, with plans to read it again.
Bravo, Kelly! What a treasure you've given not only to your readers, but most importantly to your daughters.
You can hear Kelly read from Lift here:
I posted this clip a year or so ago, but want to include it again.
My review for Kelly's previous memoir, The Middle Place, can be found here.
Final thoughts: I listened to Gift of the Sea while walking on the bike trail near our house a few years ago. While I would love to experience the audio version of Lift, I think I better listen within the privacy of my home. It's one thing to suddenly burst out laughing while listening to an audio book in public and quite another to walk past strangers with tears streaming down one's cheeks.