Relevant Today

Relevant Today

FLIGHT, a contemporary story

Though the setting and time in Flight are remote, the conflicts in the book are contemporary— personal empowerment, keeping our children safe, the complexities of domestic violence, humans’ relationship to nature, love and redemption.

“Our stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories are how we come to new understandings about each other, how we change our view of the world, how we teach, and how we learn. Each of us carries stories. Stories we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Stories we’ve been given by others. Stories we’ve gathered ourselves along the way.”
~ Marianne Elliot

More about the contemporary issues in Flight

Stories about caring parents taking unconventional action to protect their children in times of hardship and threat pepper recent history. During WWII Europeans sent their children to the countryside, away from the bombs dropping on cities. Depression era parents in the US relinquished their children with family or strangers. The book and movie Seabiscuit depicts one such story. Today in Africa children live in protective camps or hide nightly in the bush to escape kidnappers and carnage, and safe haven laws for infants are still in effect across the United States.

For Sarah and others in mid-century Appalachia, fate’s as impossible to fight as bombs, genocide, and destitution. She has nowhere to send Jamie, so she makes the only choice she sees to prepare her son, make him strong, keep him safe, and it breaks her heart.

In the best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, child advocacy expert Richard Louv joins a number of experts in childhood development who conclude mental health, learning, and brain development in today’s children are suffering because of a disconnection from nature. Louv posits that when electronic media, fenced yards, over-scheduling, and protective measures from real or perceived threats replace hours of unstructured, creative play outdoors, and open meadows, woods, and wetlands disappear, children are separated from nature. And this mass lack of exposure to nature in today’s world is directly linked to the disturbing rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression in children.

Flight offers a picture of the relationship between people and nature that Richard Louv and others advocate as a solution to nature-deficit disorder. Nature plays a key role in the lives of the Sarah and Jamie. It is where they find solace, refuge, and understanding of themselves in the world. The outdoors provide their greatest recreation and amusement, gifts them with their treasured keepsakes. And nature provides sustenance, shelter, and balms to heal their bodies. One might argue Sarah and Jamie don’t have computers and television as alternatives, but one can’t argue the value in their relationship to nature.

Flight is not about abuse, but the complexity and affects of domestic violence feed the story. It shapes the household and how Jamie and Sarah evolved in response. Sarah’s delivered a devastating prophecy born from Redmond’s abuse, makes a decision that defines her mothering. When his abuse cements her decision, she resigns herself to heartbreak. Jamie withdrew, honed his observation skills, learned to be resourceful, doesn’t question. And yet, with only themselves and Jack as an unlikely guardian angel to help them, Sarah and Jamie find their way out. Additionally, we see Redmond is not singularly defined by his abuse. That it prevents him from having what he wants most in the world, too.

Domestic violence is not contained by socio-economic, racial, or special relationship boundaries. Shame and fear are its allies. In 1952, the topic of domestic violence was rarely uttered, even amongst close friends. In Southern Appalachia, the culture’s code dictated, “You make your bed, you lie in it.”

Domestic violence against women is a still a hidden, “unacknowledged epidemic in America” (former Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, 2004). Statistics may vary, but most current sources agree on these facts: One in four women in the United States experiences violence by a current or former intimate partner at some point in her life. Nearly 70% of the children of abused women are also physically abused. Every fifteen seconds a woman is beaten in this country. This means that everyday we walk by or stand in a room with a woman or child who’s been physically abused by someone they loved at some time in their life.

As economies falter, infrastructures crumble, companies close, and mega-fires, super-storms, and oil spills wreak havoc across the globe, discussions abound around the options left to average individuals for a better life. Issues once relegated to the uncommonly abused or the self-help seeker, held as topics in classrooms and psychologists offices, are now subjects in blogs. The kernel at the heart of the commentary: personal empowerment, the kind that comes from knowing one always has choices.

In Flight, a progression of pivotal choices leads to a prophecy – Sarah’s choice when her husband leaves for the coal fields; Redmond’s choice when the mine collapses; Sarah’s choices with Redmond; Redmond’s choice for violence. We later learn Jack made a choice for revenge before he came to the mountains. Each confesses not thinking through the full impact of their actions. When Sarah hears the prophecy, she consciously makes a heartbreaking choice on Jamie, but she makes it feeling confined by the codes that govern her mountain culture though she’s demonstrated her strength and independence in many ways. It’s not until Jamie chooses to follow his curiosity with Jack that her consciousness shifts toward a new way of looking at her life. Sarah and Jack both grow with Jamie, find empowerment in choices they never imagined possible.

In the USA, a proliferation of stereotypical caricatures blanket conversations on immigration, healthcare, civil defense, religion, including increased villainization of the poor and fear of difference. Across-the-globe conflicts solidify into soundbites of us & them. A contraction of perceptions despite an onslaught of information. But healthy societies require empathy, open-mindedness, and cross-cultural understanding to thrive.

The American South, diverse and fraught with controversial history, hit the limelight in 2015. Amidst discussions re. the Confederate flag, Barbara Kingslover noted “No story is ever simple here in the south. . .Southerners, especially Appalachians, live in a shadow of condescension. Popular culture wages a steady war on our dignity, decking us out as ignorant, vaguely incestuous hayseeds. Reality TV digs deep to find trashy families to reinforce the stereotype. In a nation with a hair-trigger sensitivity to disparaging labels, the word ‘hillbilly’ still flies with impunity.” Guardian, July 3, 2015.

Flight challenges stereotypes. The people are disadvantaged, live in isolation within a culture foreign to mainstream America. And their stories are universal. Sarah’s journey and conflicts breaking with cultural mores, reclaiming her life. The pain for her and Jamie born in her sacrifice for the welfare of her child. Jamie’s coming-of-age. His growth with education, mentoring, exposure to other cultures. And unlike stereotypes of backwoods mountain people, Sarah demonstrates strength and wisdom, uses her knowledge and acumen to contribute to her community.