Friday, August 28, 2015

An Invisible Thread

Title:  An Invisible Thread:  The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny
Author:  Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski
Publication Information:  Howard Books (reprint edition). 2012. 238 pages.
ISBN:  1451648979 / 978-1451648973

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "The boy stands alone on a sidewalk in Brooklyn and this is what he sees:  a woman running for her life, and another woman chasing her with a hammer."

Favorite Quote:  "But I also think about how fleeting such moments of innocence are, about how good intentions and wide-eyed optimism and even love can only protect us from the harsh, corrupting reality of life for so long."

Two weeks ago, I attended a forum on criminal justice reform. The focal point of the discussion was the racial disparity in the treatment of individuals arrested for committing crimes. Political, judicial, and racial leaders spoke, each providing recommendations for change and recommendations for how best to help individuals re-entering society after release from the criminal justice system. Interestingly, the discussion focused on redemption; the question of prevention did not come up. What can be done to change people's lives, to give them an alternative to the streets and to a life of crime to survive? What choices are there for a child of streets? Who reaches out to help?

Reading this book for my book club proved timely for this is a story of hope and a story of prevention not redemption. It is a story of how one person can change a life, and how that can ripple out to a family and perhaps eventually a community. Laura Schrod is that person. A busy city executive, she one day turned around for an eleven year old panhandler. In doing so, she changed Maurice's life and perhaps her own.

Several things surprise me about this book. First, I did not expect Laura Schroff's own childhood and life to be such a big part of this book. A lot of this book reads as a healing for her, coming to terms with her own history of growing up in abuse and fear. The book reveals much about her relationships with her parents and her siblings, but it leaves many questions unanswered, particularly about her brother Frank and his eventual demise.

It is also surprising that for me, Maurice seems missing from this book. He is central to the story of course, but we only ever hear about him. The only words to come from him are in the letter in the epilogue. Even the letter mirrors too closely the events highlighted in the book. We only truly see the parts of his life that touch Laura Schroff's. I want to hear about what she didn't see. I want to hear his perspective of going home after a Monday with Laura. I want to hear about surviving on the streets. I want to hear about the very tough choice to take the right path and not the immediately expedient one.

It is also surprising that a book about such charged issues as abuse, neglect, poverty, abandonment seems distant emotionally. The account seems documentary in nature. It tells the story but does not make me, as the reader, feel the story. My reaction to the book becomes an intellectual one at the reality that individuals - especially children - lead such lives in our nation, but my reaction is not an emotional one.

Regardless, some of our leaders today could learn from Laura Schroff. Sometimes, a kind word and a helping hand can change the course of a life. Person by person is how we set the course of a community and a nation.

Book Club Note:  This book led a lively discussions that led far beyond the book. As usual, our opinions on the topics were as diverse as our background. Some of the questions we talked about:

  • What made Laura's mother stay in her relationship?
  • Would any one of have turned around for Maurice?
  • What does a "privileged" life mean? What privileges do we take for granted?
  • How typical or atypical is Marice's life? Is it something any one of us have come close to experiencing?
  • Given the exact same upbringing as Laura's, would a man have turned around? What difference, if any, does gender make?

Most of the conversations came back to the question - What would you do in the same situation? The book came with questions from the publisher, but we decided that we much preferred our own, very personal conversation.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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