Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: In the Shadow of His Wings

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: In the Shadow of His Wings

Author: Carol Schuller

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (1986), Jove (1988)

Date: 1986 (hardcover), 1988 (paperback)

ISBN: 0515098027

Length: 216 pages

Illustrations: black-and-white photo insert

Quote: "[T]he treacherous downhill course...was one event in the 1984 Handicapped Nationals that I had a chance at winning....My red Atomic ski ran fast and smooth."

Right. Ski, not skis. For those who've forgotten, the daughter of millionnaire TV preacher Robert Schuller became a skier after losing one leg. She carried a torch in the Olympics. She really was--I am not being snarky as I type this, although the Schuller clan bring out my snarky side--an inspiration to us all.

This does not prevent her book from including occasional bits of stomach-turning Positive Thinking quotes from her father: "I know you'll have to walk down the aisle on crutches; no one can get a leg made for you by then. But you know what? That's okay." Oh, sure it is. If you were a teenager about to be a bridesmaid for the very first time--or for that matter if you just had a sprained ankle!--all you'd need would be for some smirky preacher to tell you that your pain, not to mention your conspicuousness and the risk of aggravating your injury, was okay, and everything would be just fine and dandy! Oh, right!

It is, however, reassuring to know that the Schuller children, including Carol, grew up reasonably "normal," apart from having adapted to that horrible, smarmy communication pattern. My opinion that any utterance that follows the pattern, "I know [some undesirable thing has happened to you, not me], but you know what? That's okay," is grounds for divorce, desertion, abandonment, hasn't changed, but the Schuller family do constitute evidence that people survive and adapt to this kind of verbal atrocities.

Another thing that hasn't changed: There are a lot of people with physical disabilities who do things they've supposedly lost the ability to do, better than the average person who doesn't have the same disability. Most of us have the opportunity to meet a few of them if we live long enough. This web site has often referred to people who've become good at a job that was in some way a kind of defiance of a physical injury--a blind editor, a two-finger typist who was actually born with only two fingers, a one-handed builder, a writer with hydrocephaly, and others. I enjoy watching these people do their thing, but it's not because they represent "a triumph of the human spirit," exactly, because my cat Mogwai became a bolder climber and hunter than her sisters in defiance of an injury, too. But such people (and animals) definitely have a kind of fortitude that many people like to observe. Books about them are a recognized literary genre; athletic performances by them are a major sports event. Does In the Shadow of His Wings have more literary merit than any other memoir by any other competitor in these events? How much of this book's success is due to the fact that Carol Schuller had a rich and famous father, and most of the other competitors didn't?

Probably a lot. It's not that Carol Schuller wasn't an inspiring and lovable teenager, or that her book isn't well enough written to entertain readers during commutes or hospital visits, or wouldn't have been a good read if her name had been Carol Smith. It's that her book sold more copies than My Left Foot did...because she was Robert Schuller's kid. And now libraries are discarding copies of her book, and selling them for nickels and dimes...because she's Robert Schuller's daughter.

Well, enough about the woman, what about the book? I think a lot of people who wouldn't read Robert Schuller's books might enjoy Carol's, because she's not a preacher and she doesn't preach in this book; she's an athlete, and she reminisces about training and competitions.

One observation Schuller makes that's likely to help some readers is that just having lots of surgeries, anesthetics, antibiotics, etc., can cause overwhelming depression as a physical symptom. Philosophy or psychology can help people cope with this condition; they don't make it go away, any more than they fix a broken or amputated leg. Drugs that produce a "high" mood may help some patients survive, or may push patients into suicide, depending on how the individual body reacts to the drug. Schuller bonded with other injured teenagers in the hospital and lost a few friends to this physical disease process. Awareness that it can happen won't prevent it from happening to a prospective Special Olympian you might know, but awareness can help patients and families cope. Knowing that the emotion of depression is a physical reaction to what's happened to the body, that it will come and go, can help people choose not to commit suicide, vent despondent thoughts that hurt others, or even reach for "medications" that may do more harm than good.

That said, to what extent does this book cheerfully deny the discouraging reality of pain in its focus on sports and Schuller's being a normal, not even academic, teenager? Recent psychology suggests that the level of denial may be much lower than you'd expect. Teenagers have a lot of energy, and heal fast. Vigorous exercise is a powerful natural painkiller.

Every teenager who loses a leg, or the use of a leg, can't be given a horse (Schuller was). Every injured teenager who can keep a horse, and appreciate having one, won't even choose horseback riding as a primary method of pain control and recovery (Schuller obviously chose skiing). However, as long as this book can motivate more injured teenagers to choose physical activity over drugs as a painkiller, it will be accomplishing good things. Warmly recommended.

When I started typing in this review, I wasn't sure exactly where to tell local lurkers to look for it in real life...no, that's a separate post. To buy it from this web site, e-mail salolianigodagewi@yahoo.com for either a Paypal or a real mail address. Minimum price: $5 for a clean copy of the book, $5 for shipping; if you buy several books at one time we'll consolidate the shipping fee; we will send Carol Schuller or her favorite charity $1, and you will get to post a free advertorial, which may contain live links to for-profit sites if they test as safe. Amazon prices may be even lower but do not include royalty payments to living authors, as ours do.