Wednesday, February 21, 2007
In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Howard and Phyllis Rutledge
In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a tremendously difficult book to read, yet oddly uplifting. The story of Captain Howard E. Rutledge, who was held captive as a prisoner of war for seven years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam, Rutledge tells not only of the torture and deprivation he experienced but the rebirth of his faith. Torture, I should add, is the one area he did not go into in detail. That doesn't save the reader from many horrifying images, though.
How on earth could someone's faith be renewed while he was kept in solitary confinement--sometimes for years at a stretch--often with his hands and legs shackled so that he had to sit in the same position, unable to lie down or step to a corner to relieve himself? How could anyone even stay alive, much less find any hope to grasp while surrounded by spiders the size of his fist, rats waking him when they nibbled at his toes, swarms of mosquitoes that he could not even lift a hand to swat?
Rutledge attributes his survival to God, the renewal of a faith he had let slide and to the coded communication system devised by prisoners. As each prisoner arrived, often injured and usually terrified of the unknown, the other prisoners would make sure he was "on the line", teaching him their private code in bits and snatches. Using any method possible - tapping on the walls, sweeping a broom rhythmically, even using their sandals to shuffle in code - the prisoners "spoke" to each other. They shared Bible verses, song lyrics, plans, and information about their families and their lives.
The book is an amazing mix of horrific descriptions of pain and loneliness, endurance and faith in the future. A small section written by the wife who didn't know her husband's fate and who had to deal with her own anguish and tragedy on the home front rounds out the book. It's just a shattering but incredible read.
I misplaced the piece of paper I made notes on (again), but found a bio of Rutledge here with quotes, photos and plenty of interesting info. My copy was a library sale find and not in the best condition but judging from the fact that I was able to obtain a cover image (not the same as mine), the book must still be available. I recommend it but with a reminder that his experiences were shocking; it's probably not for the faint of heart. Actually, I'm usually one of the faint of heart but the descriptions of how he spent his time digging up verses and songs from his memory and mentally built houses (in painstaking detail) to keep his mind active probably helped a great deal.
Coming up: A review of Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Almost finished with: First Light by Geoffrey Wellum
Now flying in our area: You name it. I think the bleak midwinter is gone, baby, gone. The pear trees have budded, birds are flying around with bits of this and that in their beaks (homebuilding), everything is turning green, I've been sneezing my head off, I'm wheezy and my eyes are burning. We saw our first butterfly of the season on Sunday. Yeah, spring is here. I could have tolerated a lot more winter.
Best thing my kid has said all month: "Literature is cool." This was in reference to the fact that last semester he studied literature in English; this semester they're working on grammar. The corollary: "Grammar sucks." As my eldest did everything humanly possible to avoid actually reading any of his assigned literature, I'm definitely happy with the youngster enjoying that portion of his English requirements.
Romance is apparently cool, also: Wow, what a response to that post about my Valentine's Day! Sometime soon, I'll have to share how I met my husband. That's actually a pretty romantic story, as well, or so I'm told. But, for now . . . off to do the stuff that I can't avoid. Or maybe I'll go outside and watch the birds, again. It's in the 70's. Feel free to swap places with me, if you're living in a frozen wasteland.
Bookfool, listening to the wind chimes and reaching for another tissue