Empathetic Others (Miss America by Day Re-Read-2: Dedication)

(The following is the 2nd in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)

Ms. Van Derbur begins her book’s brief Dedication by saying:

Above all else, this book is a love story and is dedicated to my husband of 39 years, Larry Atler.

She then compares her husband’s love to to “champagne being poured into the top glass of a pyramid of glasses on New Year’s Eve,” saying that this love “has spilled over and filled all my empty places.”

The remainder of the book will proceed to make clear how true these words have been at various crucial stages and moments in Ms. Van Derbur’s life.

In addition, Ms. Van Derbur pays tribute to her daughter and also to a Presbyterian minister she knew from an early age and who, as succeeding pages will make clear, played a critical role in her recovery from her sexual abuse by her father.

Reflections on the Dedication:

Who among us—child sexual abuse survivors or not—would not wish to have such a firm and lasting source of support as Ms. Van Derbur has found in her husband of many years—by now, in 2014, of almost half a century? Few, I would wager, indeed. And as the full version of her interview of this year, appearing on her website—missamericabyday.com—makes clear, her feelings of love and gratitude for her husband haven’t changed.

To read and watch such professions of love for and gratitude to one’s spouse of many years in this second decade of the twenty-first century—when the institution of marriage, in its traditional form at least, is, in America and many other countries, so beleaguered—is impressive indeed.

But, whether or not, in one’s own life, one is so fortunate as to have found such a deep and enduring source of support in a single individual as Ms. Van Derbur has found in her husband, it is, I would assert, based on my own experience as a child sexual abuse survivor and all that I have learned of the experiences of other survivors, virtually undeniable that any significant degree of recovery from the adverse effects of such abuse requires, as  a sine qua non, for its success the ample support of empathetic others.

Ms. Van Derbur’s profession of such deep and enduring love for her husband also brings to mind, by way of contrast, the many marriages that, during her and my growing up years, the middle decades of the twentieth century, were maintained—due to factors such as societal attitudes strongly discouraging divorce (especially in locations such as the mid-sized, inland American cities in which Ms. Van Derbur and I grew up), legal hurdles that often existed to dissolving marriages, and the frequent economic dependence of wives upon their husbands—for the sake of appearance only. Shell marriages, in other words, behind which all manner of dysfunction often managed to stay quite well hidden. Considered from this perspective, the greatly increased economic power of women and ease of obtaining a divorce in our present era are to be highly valued as facilitators of a healthy escape from such dysfunction, including the dysfunction of intra-family child sexual abuse.


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