I recently finished reading Tracy McKay’s new book The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope. While we often talk about wanting to hear more women’s voices in Mormonism, we don’t often get the chance to hear one as articulate and heartfelt as this one. Tracy takes you on a tour of her life and marriage with a generosity of spirit seldom encountered, particularly not when one has had as many setbacks and obstacles as Tracy underwent.
It’s a great read, a fast read, one that makes you want to improve your own patience and charity. It’s funny, touching, and frustrating at times, just like real life, and we feel as if we are a welcome guest, old friends, at Tracy’s kitchen table in Little House.
Because this is a woman’s memoir, there were a few things that struck me as I read about her experience that I wanted to expound upon.
She observed the benefit to having a role reversal with her husband when he stayed home and she worked, a big change from their prior arrangement:
I suddenly knew how easy it is not to notice the little things; he found out how important it was to be noticed. I knew how nice it was to have a clean, orderly home; he knew how much work a clean and orderly home takes. I knew the self-esteem and value of paid work; he knew the frustration and humility of house work. I knew the unexpected joy of coming home to my kids and a husband I loved; he knew the relief and happiness when I walked through the door and it was no longer just him.
The newfound empathy goes both ways with an increase in respect and courtesy. I thought this was a great part of the story. As a single mom, trying hard to cope with three young children and no one else to co-parent, while also dealing with poverty, her coping strategy of identifying her “rocks” is a great one.
“What are the rocks?” By that I meant, what were the fact? What were the things I could absolutely count on, and what were the things that depended on other people, or were hopes and wishes?
This coping mechanism helped release me from the clutches of debilitating anger. I was no longer constantly in fight- or flight tension about nursing the kids through another emotional breakdown. Holding onto my rocks kept me sane.
Her insights as a parent were full of wisdom, particularly the wisdom to go with the flow and quit trying to control everything.
It was amazing how liberating it was to consider doing things differently. We didn’t have to be sad about not meeting an imaginary ideal.
She also talked about raising a special needs son all alone in this situation and “finding ways to show love that he could understand and that were never going to be about what I wanted.”
And when she focuses inward, trying to better herself, she dug deep to discover things that many women never realize.
I wanted to be comfortable in my skin, not necessarily thin. That wasn’t going to happen at the gym; it was work I had to do inside of myself.
She avoids the sin of selflessness and martyrdom.
I hadn’t yet realized the importance of including myself on the list of people who mattered.
Even more harrowing to me than dealing with a husband in the grip of addiction was the impact of poverty to her and her family, and the ways in which the government and other people both helped and hindered her. One example would have been funny had it not been so dispiriting:
It was a letter from the US Treasury Department informing me that they had seized my tax return for back child support. Oh, the irony. I had filed our taxes jointly because David and I were still married the previous year. I’d been hoping that tax return would help me, since I was not getting child support. The Department of the Treasury had confiscated my tax return to pay me child support. The taxes wouldn’t even have been filed at all had I not done it. Oh, sweet, bitter, irony.
Overall, this is a great memoir. It’s a human story that makes the most difficult situation relatable. And yet, Tracy’s graciousness even while in these dire circumstances, shine through. She captures moment after moment of beauty, love and grace. It reminded me of the street market in Marrakesh, an absolutely filthy path filled with chaos, loud motorcycles, haggling, but through the slats overhead, shafts of light illuminating those who pass through.
A quick read that kept me turning the pages and rooting for Tracy and David while still sensing the pull of the downward spiral. Tracy epitomizes grace under fire, and her wisdom is applicable even without the dire straits she experienced. My heart grew three sizes reading this. I wanted to buy a plane ticket and hug the author, and then go home and be a better person.
Do you enjoy memoirs? Any favorites? What other similar memoirs have you read?