Like many, you may have read articles or heard on the news the story of Elizabeth Smart, but no one can tell this story better than Elizabeth herself. Reading Smart's new book, "My Story," adds a more human touch to the tale and helps you walk in her shoes.
About a year ago, I decided to read a book that had been in my house for many years but I had never opened. It is titled "Bringing Elizabeth Home," and it was written in 2003 by her parents, Ed and Lois Smart. This book is an excellent companion to "My Story" (2013, St. Martin's Press) because it provides two angles of the story: one from her parents' perspective and the other from her own. "Bringing Elizabeth Home" explains what was going on at the Smart home in Salt Lake City and the search for Elizabeth while she was missing.
The incredible insights that Elizabeth shared in "My Story," released last October, were the most amazing part of the book. There were many beautiful, inspirational messages she shared, but there also were parts that were horrifying. Elizabeth talks about the abuses she suffered in the times when she described her life as being no more than "boredom, hunger, rape."
One of the most disturbing things about the book is how manipulative Brian David Mitchell, the man convicted of kidnapping Smart in Salt Lake City in 2002, is. He is extremely skilled at tricking others to get anything he wants. Even though Mitchell claims to be a prophet, Smart explains that she does not believe he actually felt that way, but saying that was simply a way for him to manipulate others.
Something important Smart does is to clear up things about the case that some find hard to understand.
Many have questioned why she didn't just try and escape, for instance. Smart, who was 14 at the time, explains that the constant threats by Mitchell, against her and her family, deterred her from that. For the first part of her abduction, she was trapped by a metal cable tightly tied around her ankle. But after two months, she reached a point where, "I was never cabled to the trees again. There was no longer any need. I had reached the point where I was being held captive by Mitchell's words."
Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee made Elizabeth believe that even if she escaped, they could not only kill her, but kill her entire family. He made her believe that even if he didn't personally harm her family, he had friends who would. It was heartbreaking to read the part where Smart said, "As horrible as my life was, it was far preferable for me to suffer than to hurt those I loved."
In "My Story," Smart defends the fact that she did NOT have Stockholm syndrome, or feelings of sympathy toward her captors; she always knew that what they were doing was wrong. The book sets straight some of the details that the public and the media have speculated on.
Smart shares many things in the book that gave her hope including thoughts of her family and her grandpa who had just passed away (whose presence she felt near her at times). There were occasions when Elizabeth went through starvation and dehydration, either because of Mitchell's unwillingness to go into the city or to hike far down the mountain to a stream for water.
When Mitchell finally went to the city, he would leave Smart and Barzee for several days while he was partying and drinking. One time, after almost two days with no water, something amazing happened -- in the middle of the night, Smart found a cup of ice cold water sitting beside her pillow. There were many miracles like this that got her through her ordeal.
The best part of the book was, of course, the end. Elizabeth coming home was one of the greatest happy endings I have ever read in any book -- ever.
When Elizabeth gets home, her mother gives her some advice that helps her recover in the coming years: "Elizabeth, what this man has done to you, it's terrible. There aren't words strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is! He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. To move forward with your life. To do exactly what you want."
Her mother continues, "You be happy, Elizabeth, just be happy. If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away. So don't you do that! Don't you let him! There is no way that he deserves that. Not one more second of your life. You keep every second for yourself. You keep them and be happy."
To me, this is the most amazing thing about the Elizabeth Smart story. That even though so many horrible things happened to her, she was able to move on. I think that Elizabeth showing that she wouldn't let Mitchell ruin her life forever teaches an amazing lesson to the rest of us -- a lesson of forgiveness. Because no matter what your circumstance, or what wrong or pain has been inflicted upon you, you can regain happiness by letting go of the past and moving toward the future.
There is one more quote from the book that I think completes Smart's ideas beautifully. It reads: "As of this writing, I am twenty-five years old. I have been alive for 307 months. Nine of those months were pretty terrible. But 298 of those months have been very good. I have been happy. I have been very blessed. Who knows how many more months I have to live? But even if I died tomorrow, nine out of 307 seems like pretty good odds."
Elizabeth Smart is an amazing young woman, and her new book is a must-read that could even change your life.
Nathan Beeston is a senior at Syracuse High School. Contact him at email@example.com.