Alabama Teacher's Award Winning New Novel Sheds Light on Healing to Defective Parents and Their Victims

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How can a child grow to forgive the abuser, the murderer, or the thief who takes it all away? How can a man decide between genuine forgiveness and perfect vengeance in the wake of disaster?

“Hey boy! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” yelled John Carr, a defensive lineman for the middle school football team and one of those intimidating figures I avoided frequently.

“We were just playing! Tell him, Jorge...Jorge?” 

Jorge was gone like a bullet. There was no sign of the little guy. And by the time I had turned back around, the focus was on me and John Carr. Words like, “fight” and “look some dude is about to get is butt kicked!” seemed to draw the attention of everyone. I now stood on center stage. Within seconds, a hundred students surrounded the two of us. There was no turning back now. John had to deliver a show and I knew it. Hoping to avoid a conflict so early in the school year, I pressed on to try to explain.

“Hey…hey…w…wait a minute… I was just...” Before the stuttering mess could get out of my mouth, John delivered a blow to my head and thrust me back into the lockers. I felt the pain as he landed a frenzy of punches amidst a desperate attempt to escape. During the scuffle, his hands tugged on my shorts and ripped them from my body as I pushed him away. I could hear the laughter and see from the floor what seemed like a thousand eyes glaring down on me, feasting on my displeasure.

No one was there to soften the blow. No one was there to pull me out of harm’s way or cover me up as I struggled to stand on my own. And once finally to my feet, I revealed to everyone the horrific image that forever preserved my legacy at Milton Middle School. I stood alone in that hallway in tight, hand me down—Spiderman Underwear.

Like so many times in my past, I realized it was me versus the world and did the only thing I knew to do: Run. The chase didn’t last long and once I made it to the door, no one was going to catch me—not John, any teacher, or even Jorge, the bullet. I realized that to return, of course, would be both disgraceful and dangerous. I couldn’t deal with any more humiliation. By the time the teachers and administration finally realized I had disappeared, I was already past the peach trees, down Walden Hill.

“Whoa, boy! Where you runnin’ off to?” an old voice heckled from the tractor barn. “Shouldn’t you be in school? And hey...you’re in your underwear!” I was breathing too heavily to respond, but I slowly bowed my defeated head once again and attempted to cover myself as I made my way toward Mr. Walden.

“You realize you ain’t got no shorts on, boy?” He squinted his eyes and looked me over for a minute, then nodded his head. “You got that tail whipped didn’t you,” Mr. Walden cracked. His mood had obviously softened some from earlier in the morning.

“I got in a fight, Mr. Walden, and I didn’t do anything. I was...”

Mr. Walden interrupted, “I’m just messing with you young man. It doesn’t matter. Let’s go inside for a minute before somebody thinks you’re streaking around the neighborhood and calls the police. Don’t want them to send the dogs after you!” 

I am certain that his non-judgmental eyes and years of wisdom had already discerned that I had been roughed up and was on the run like a fugitive. He made a noble attempt to comb my tangled and knotted-up hair and straighten my shirt. Then he placed his finger right next to the small cut over my left eye and surveyed the damage. Looking up to the clouds, Mr. Walden took a deep breath, then put his arm around this scared little thirteen-year-old and walked me inside. The fear and pain that I emitted must have been a bit overwhelming for the old man. I think he sincerely felt my heartache.

He proceeded to tell me some story about some terrible kid named Billy Hampton who used to ride up and down his street and heckle and torment him when he was young. He told me how Billy Hampton frequently wrestled him unwillingly to the ground and rubbed his face in the dirt or intentionally stole or broke something that was his just to be mean. He rambled on and on about learning lessons from it and how things changed over the years, but the message just wasn’t getting through to me. It was a noble attempt to relate, but I think he finally realized my pain could not be soothed with a story.

The cut over my eye didn’t need a lot of attention, but it was enough for a Band-Aid and for him to realize the emotional heartache that potentially could follow would be greater than any wound when the other kids from school saw the battle scar. Mr. Walden leaned toward me and said in a soothing voice, “Son, do you need me to fix this right now?”

I looked him in the eye as my tears began to roll. “Yes, Mr. Walden,” I sobbed. “Please fix it all. I want it all back. I want my life back….my family…my mom….I want friends…I want it all back! I don’t want to be this stupid nobody anymore!” 

He took a deep breath. “Boy, I’ll tell you, I can’t fix a thing. But I know whose hands you and I can put this in. Yep, Jesus even took a punch or two as well. It’s O.K. What if I told you that this one day in your life could be the day you look back on and thank God for?”

“Well, I’d say you’re wrong and I that I wish John Carr would just drop off the face of the earth!”

The old man, leaned back in his chair and winked at me. “We'll fix this little scratch and see about getting you some clothes.”

He was doing his best to comfort me. I felt as though he saw the bigger picture. I could see in his eyes that he had come to some kind of crossroad—a realization—at the very moment in time when he placed the Band-Aid on my head: He was not going to let me fall through the cracks.

This was the pivotal moment Mr. Walden stepped in my life.

He suddenly changed in a moment from the man across the street to something much, much more significant. The scars for me were on the inside. The cut I wore over my left eye was just temporary. Mr. Walden saw it all. The world had failed me. And deep inside his eighty-two-year-old mind, at this very moment in time, unbeknownst to me then, he knew what had to be done. 

His summoned up every bit of strength possible in that big old frame of his, leaned over, picked me up from the chair, and held me in his arms like a young child. 

For the first time, since my mom died, I felt love.

The Walk to Walden Hill

-A true novel of hope in the wake of disaster.

Middle School teacher and coach Robert Abernathy doesn't pull punches when describing how some decisions can have long lasting consequences on those we love. His new book, The Walk to Walden Hill, vividly portrays what happens to a young man when he loses his parents and must fend for himself.

Abernathy has the voice of experience. As a teacher and coach he has witnessed first hand how hard it is for young people to emerge from broken families unscathed. But it’s the wounds and scars that he himself has received (see book preview) that drives the story, arriving at what for many will be some unexpected conclusions.

Abernathy explains, "In our society we often think that if we throw money at things and create program after program, we can fix anything. We've made divorce so easy that marriage is like a towel that one simply throws out when it gets dirty. I know what that's like. We remove kids from abusive situations and put them into foster care and think we've solved the problem. Though it can be productive, no program can solve our ills. It will be people, always people, who are willing to step into the lives of other people and show them how to carry out the hard business of sustaining healthy relationships."

The Walk to Walden Hill is not autobiographical, even though it draws on some of the author's experiences. In an innovative twist, there is one aspect of the book that looms larger than life because it is very much rooted in real life, and that is the character of Paul Walden. While the rest of the book is fiction, there really was a Paul Walden.

Coach Abernathy explains, "I wanted to preserve Mr. Walden's legacy. Though he is definitely a larger than life character in this book, he surely lives in it." The recently deceased Paul Walden was a rock in a troubled sea for many in the community and a dear friend to Abernathy.

Abernathy's book doesn't pull punches about the damage that embarrassment, loneliness, grief, and a broken family can inflict on a soul. Readers are able to resonate with the main character, Josh Billows, because all of us have endured such things at one time or another. Surprsingly though, on the flip side, readers will find themselves deep into the heart of one who seeks to be forgiven as the book progresses.

"I’ve felt the disappointment of reaching out for forgiveness and being turned away,” Abernathy says. “But I've also experienced the healing that comes from genuine reconciliation. It's a hard thing to do, and we often need help along the way, but it is real and it is possible."

But are forgiveness and reconciliation really powerful enough to address our truly darkest societal topics? What about criminals? What about abusers? What about those who are victim of humanity's worst actions?

Abernathy argues, "Our problem as a society, and even as Christians, is that we are too afraid to look in the mirror and confess who or what we truly are. I would rather forgive someone guilty of atrocities who's genuine, remorseful, and knows who they truly are, than sit next to the smiling intentional hypocrite in a church pew. My hope is that this novel brings our inability to evaluate ourselves to light."

In addition to writing full length novels, coaching, and teaching, Abernathy is also a local musician, singer, and songwriter He resides in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, Deedee and three children.

Robert Abernathy will be signing copies of The Walk to Walden Hill in Gadsden, AL, this Friday, September 2nd at Gadsden Christian Bookstore, which is located at 434 Broad Street. The bookstore's phone number is 256-546-5911. The event begins at 6:00 p.m. and ends at 8:30 p.m.

Copies of the book can be found here. More information about the book can also be found at the website: http://www.waldenhill.net

Robert Abernathy is available for interviews at (205) 834-2512.

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