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Stars to Follow
By Alex Carrigan
There are way too many things we inherit from our ancestors that resonate with us. Some families pass down stories and religion. Others pass down specific hair and eye colors. Some pass down genetic illnesses and health conditions. Others inflict trauma or suffer from trauma that affects the successive generations. There are so many things to consider when looking at ones familial history and how it affects you in the past, present, and future, and reckoning with that can be the sort of thing that reveals more about oneself than previously thought.
In her memoir Seconds and Inches, Carly Israel examines the way her life has been affected by trauma and illness across her life and the life of her family. From examining the horrifying past her grandparents suffered living through the Holocaust, to her struggles with addiction in her college years, to the numerous medical issues that her youngest son went through shortly after birth, Israel looks deeply at this important moments in her history and the history of the generations before and after her. She examines these through her faith and the relationships with those around her in the many brief chapters throughout the book.
Israel's story could get lost in the sea of memoirs of women overcoming addiction and trauma, but manages to set itself apart from how Israel manages to expand her viewpoint and add to it in a way that gives it her edge. By starting the memoir by focusing on the generations of trauma that fed into her own, she's able to look at the various moments and people that could show how her later struggles were part of an inevitable cycle or were something she had to overcome. Israel had to deal with alcohol and drug issues like her parents, and the amount of work it took for all of them to become sober allowed them to grow as people and strengthen their bond as family.
While the first sections was about Israel's family trauma, the second focused more on her issues. The first part focuses on her issues with drug and alcohol abuse, culminating in a near-overdose that scared her sober. This would later follow into when her youngest son was born with some undiagnosable medical conditions and how years of testing, scans, and moments of fear showed how much Israel had grown from her reckless college days. These moments show how her growing faith in God, as well as her renewed and more intimate relationships with those around her, helped strengthen her and help her deal with unimaginable situations.
The main feature that sets Seconds and Inches apart is the use of Israel's various letters. In the introduction, Israel discusses how she took on a personal challenge to post a Thank-You message on social media every day for a year. The recipients of these messages varied from family members to strangers, for interactions both positive and negative. Throughout the book are some of these messages, usually in relation to a specific moment in time, such as thanking the advice of some of the doctors who helped her son. These messages go for the more emotional and deeper resonance of each moment Israel recollects in the memoir, so while it may be odd to thank a child who insulted her son, her perspective on what that moment taught her child and taught her shows exactly how far Israel has come over the course of her tale.
Seconds and Inches is an emotionally challenging memoir, but one that needs to go that deep in order to examine the affects of trauma and addiction and how they can impact an individual and a larger community, whether it's a single family or a larger medical community. Israel's recollection and examination of these events shows an emotional strength and fascinating point of view that elevates the material and makes her memoir one that can stick with the reader for a while after. It's the sort of memoir that asks the reader to think about what they're thankful for and who has truly been a pillar for them in the past and going forward, and it's one that will hopefully inspire a few Thank-You messages to be written and sent. It's the sort of thing that can take a moment, but taking the time to do so will be something that reaps great rewards in the years to come.
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