In an era of tell-all books and reality TV, it’s still unnerving for the average person to reveal too much about themselves, their dreams, and dramas. The translucent nature of living in a world that thinks it knows you simply because it has a few data points results in an exhausting and inauthentic existence. While revealing your deepest secrets along with the attendant emotions you’ve been harboring for the better part of forever is a rough and rickety bridge to cross, once you do, the secrets come pouring out like fine Irish Whiskey, purging the pain that held the memory to you and bringing an opportunity to shift nothing less than your entire consciousness. That’s just what Janet Brady Calhoun did and later described in her memoir, Rabbit Warrior, a book dedicated to the Self: self-healing, self-actualizing, and self-discovery.
Like most middle-aged women, Janet had been shackled by a few of life’s golden handcuffs: wife to an F&M College Administrator; mother of two lovely daughters; a sister in a family of four siblings; and a successful career woman, working, among other things, as the co-chair for Tom Ridge’s gubernatorial campaign and finally as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Human Services in Pennsylvania. Ironically, all left her both fulfilled and depleted. Her father, who she adored, died when she was 12, a death that left her despondent and dependent on her mother for her emotional sustainability. Whether one ever reconciles such a loss is an open question. Despite her father’s success as a dentist, he left her mother with little money, gambling debts, and four children. Possessed of nothing more than an indomitable spirit and an iron will, Janet’s mother pulled the family through, but that period, fueled by her mother’s own warrior spirit, cost Janet, and perhaps all of her siblings their emotional independence.
It’s no surprise then that the most brutal blows life dealt Janet came from the deaths of her mother and sister within a short span of each other. All those hurts caused by her father’s death came rushing back, nearly drowning her in their need to be acknowledged and released. So Janet left her home and her husband in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and moved up to Cape Cod for the summer where the family owned a home and where she did her best thinking. She took her journal and some essentials — books; the dream catcher her granddaughter made for her; wine — and headed to the Cape to call her spirit back. It turned out to be a very important summer, possibly the most important one, and it resulted in a brave and open-hearted book about the search for one’s true Self.
I must confess that at first I was annoyed. I didn’t really want to read a book about a privileged woman having an existential crisis in her home on Cape Cod when, for instance, one-third of the world doesn’t have access to clean water, but I had promised a book review so I took a breath and read on. The dialogue was a bit stilted and I had the feeling that I was voyeuristically reading over Calhoun’s shoulder as she scribbled in her journal with all its unfettered pain, anguish, and fear of being stuck inside her 12-year old emotional self — plus, she held back, probably out of propriety because nice women don’t tell all their secrets, even to their journals — yet in spite of my objections, I saw what Calhoun wanted me to see: a woman seeking redemption, not from someone else, but by and for herself because she was the only one in the world who could grant it.
Courage comes in all forms. It’s not handed out at birth and its not part of our genetic code; rather it’s something earned, and usually, it comes at a great cost. It takes courage to tell your story, the real story, not the one you create for public consumption. Rabbit Warrior is every man’s and every woman’s story. Your facts may be different, but I guarantee your pain shares similarities. Read Rabbit Warrior if you’re interested in how one woman moved some of her own pain offshore.