Monthly Wrap: More Human than Hero

by Susan Henderson on July 10, 2009

We talked about heroes this month, and every time I think of the word “hero,” I get that Mariah Carey song stuck in my head.

I heard that song constantly when I worked as a counselor at a rape crisis center because one of my teenage clients loved to sing to me. She liked over-the-top songs: “Hero,” the theme to “The Titanic.” Oh, she was an awful singer – I suppose she couldn’t help it because she was hearing impaired – but what she lacked in pitch, she made up in emotion.

When you’re a counselor, people come to you with expectations that you’ll be some kind of super hero who can save them from the complicated pain they’ve been living with, but you know better. And your clients will find out soon enough: You’re just two human beings sitting in a room together and hoping for the best.

Downstairs in the waiting room, week after week, were the parents of my singing client. They’d adopted her when she was a malnourished orphan living on the streets. They gave her a home, took her to a doctor to get hearing aids, found her a school, and brought her to me when she was date raped.

Heroes? Maybe not.

Imagine you’re a 25-year-old counselor who looks like you’re going on twelve, and it’s the day your singing client tells you that those parents in the waiting room have been molesting her. As you’re riding down in the elevator, you’re trying to find the right words, words that will become part of the court case, to explain why their daughter can’t go home with them, and what they can expect when the investigators get in touch.

If you think there’s anything heroic about stripping a girl from her family and sending her into the nightmare of group homes, there isn’t. The thing about group homes is that the workers and the residents there have that same quality as counselors and adoptive parents and all the rest: they’re human. Sometimes beautiful. Always flawed. Capable of great good, great evil, and mostly, great mediocrity.

Maybe the word “hero” can only truly describe a single moment, a single courageous choice that happened to get good results. Most times, there are no heroes, nor even heroic moments – just people trying (or not trying) their best.

If you’re wondering how the girl’s story ends, I don’t know. Counselors share a tiny room full of painful secrets and brave recovery for just a brief time. And then you just hope the kid’s doing okay. You hope she still sings.


What I read this month: A whole lotta research books for the novel I’m writing, plus Naseem Rakha’s THE CRYING TREE (I’ll talk more about this beautiful book very soon), Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (What took me so long to read this book?! It’s glorious), and John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS (Two beautiful opening chapters about death and fairy tales and WWII before it becomes, much more clearly, a children’s book. I read it through anyway, hoping the ending chapters would hit the same notes as the first two, and I’m glad to say they did).


Thanks to my July guest, novelist Lance Reynald. Thanks to all who played here, and to everyone who linked to LitPark: She Writes, Georgia McBride Books, joannamauselina, Mots Justes, Side Dish, Tayari’s Blog, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Amazon Blog, Stet, Alpha FEmale Mind, acparker, EllenMeister, spacedlawyer, lancerey, marilynpeake, artbizlaw, kmwss2c, BklynBrit, redRavine, LitChat, TerryBain, LanceRey, lorioliva, PD_Smith, nicebio, and zumayabooks. I appreciate those links!

Okay, off to dinner in the West Village with Amy Wallen, Eber Lambert, Neil Lambert, Rebecca Friedman, Rachel Shukert, Kimberly Wetherell, and Mr. H. Looking forward to it!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

billie July 10, 2009 at 8:32 am

Wow, Susan, you just captured about half of my career in a brief but poignant vignette.

The heroes in my life have most often been the kids who were able to tell, mostly knowing even before they told that their entire lives were going to be uprooted as a result. There are some heroic adults too, who never did tell, but kept the secrets so that no one’s life got messed up but their own, and once they were separate and safely “adult” decided they had to open up that dark place to someone who might understand.

What a great week here – it’s a thrill to have some new books to add to my stack. 🙂


SusanHenderson July 10, 2009 at 10:41 am

Thanks, Billie. It’s good to have you here.


Jordan July 10, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I really enjoyed your blog– I think you and your readers would be really interested in entering some of the contests Narrative Magazine is offering now- check it out at


Nathalie July 10, 2009 at 1:44 pm

What a heart breaking tale, Susan. I wonder if music did help her to face all this.


SusanHenderson July 10, 2009 at 1:51 pm

When she sang, I think she was transported. It was like she was someone else – confident and emotive and diva like. I think it was important to her that I see that side of her, like she wanted to prove what she had in her or the kind of person she dreamed of becoming.

I hope she’s well, I really do.


SusanHenderson July 10, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Hi Jordan. I’m a huge fan of Narrative Magazine, so I’m all in favor of folks here submitting to those contests.


Lac Su July 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I used to work in the group homes too. It was a constant struggle to have to deal with the things that were going in there. You try to do so much for these kids with minimal staff/resources provided (in my case, 1 staff for 6 at-risk children). I didn’t blame them for the riots that frequently broke out since they were locked up in “the hold” for most of the day (didn’t have enough staff to take them out for activities or fresh air). Unfortunately, I took some of my frustrations home with me. A hero? Perhaps not. The system is flawed indeed. Sometimes, it was very difficult to have to choose right from right.


robinslick July 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I think that post pretty much qualifies you as a hero whether you like it or not!

But you already know how I feel. xo

P.S. How was dinner? Where’d you eat? And you know me, I clicked on every link to see who was who. Rachel seems like my kind of gal and I already know I love Amy and Kimberly.


lance_reynald July 10, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I think humans make some of my favorite superheroes…

especially when they’re awesome ones like wondertwins.

thank you for a beautiful week!

I think I need a nap… seems my inner control freak just got tripped by my inner child.


SusanHenderson July 11, 2009 at 6:11 am

Awww. You deserved a beautiful week. And I hope lots and lots of people are reading your book this weekend. xo


SusanHenderson July 11, 2009 at 6:15 am

Rachel is absolutely adorable, and you’ll see for yourself on Tuesday because both Rachel and Amy said they’d come to the TNB reading.

The food was so good, especially the appetizers. We kind of got everything (because Eber treated). It was like the kind of stuff Julie would cook. And then I ordered sea bass. I wanted to order the duck, but the guy across from me told a story about his mom’s boyfriend killing and eating his pet duck, and so I couldn’t do it.


SusanHenderson July 11, 2009 at 6:18 am

Yeah, it’s hard to be effective when the entire system’s flawed. I know exactly what you mean.

I was thinking of you the other day and wondering how the book tour and the babies were doing…


billybones July 11, 2009 at 7:02 am

Poking one’s head out of mediocrity from time to time seems like a noble quest. And maybe mulish persistence is something to be marveled at too.


SusanHenderson July 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Maybe I’ll tape that to my computer screen.


billybones July 11, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Was thinking of taping it to my forehead, but the screen is a much more attractive option.


jessicaK July 15, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Woah, Susan. Your story…what can I possibly say to this? It knocks the words out of my head. You continue to amaze.


SusanHenderson July 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Once again, I have to send people over to your new blog. It’s not only fascinating on its own, but it’s perfect for writers who could use a little push toward where some emotional material is hiding:


jessicaK July 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Thank you, Susan. I hope you keep visiting, too. New post up today.
Lance–wishing you a wide readership.



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