Review: This Life Is in Your Hands
Eliot and Sue Coleman met on a college campus in the 1960’s, fell in love, got married and decided to try their hand at homesteading. They bought sixty acres of land near Scott and Helen Nearing, a couple who were at the forefront of the homesteading movement. They found it to be backbreaking work, but they were determined to make it work and persevered. Children came quickly – first Melissa, then Heidi, and finally Clara. With the parents working so hard to sustain their life on the farm, the children weren’t very well supervised – almost to the point of neglect. One day, Sue was trying to get ready for company so she shooed Melissa and Heidi out of the house and tragedy struck. Their family was never the same.
This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family Undone is Melissa Coleman‘s memoir of her family’s experiment with homesteading and I found it tragic and fascinating. I was amazed at how much Coleman could remember from a very young age, but I think that happens sometimes when tragedy strikes. My heart ached for poor Melissa – she longed for attention from her parents and only seemed to get it from the “interns” who spent summers with the family learning about organic farming (in other words, free labor for the family). Melissa struggled to fit in at school because her lifestyle was so different – for example, she didn’t always remember to wear underwear, had never seen toilet paper before and ate different foods than everyone else.
The family keep moving forward, though, because they were a unit and had ideals to live for. Once tragedy struck, however, each family member was haunted in some way and as they began to withdraw, the unit began to dissolve.
It seems strange to say I enjoyed a tragic story like this, but I did. I often idealize things like sustainable living in my head and it’s nice to have a reminder of just how difficult it is. Coleman’s writing is lyrical and beautiful. She seemed to try to be fair in her presentation of homesteading – sharing the good along with the bad.
I listened to the audio version of This Life Is in Your Hands and I feel like I would have enjoyed the book more in print. It’s read by the author, and while I know authors are often chosen to read memoirs, since it’s their story, I don’t think she was the best choice. Her tone was monotonous and she often droned on. The audio was unabridged and lasted approximately nine and a half hours.