The Possibility of Everything: Hope Edelman’s holiday journey of faith, healing and Maya spirituality
by Heidi Trilling
What would you do if the advent of your child’s imaginary friend forced you to question your beliefs in spirituality, in conventional medicine and in yourself as a parent? These are the enormous issues Hope Edelman confronts in her lyrical new memoir, The Possibility of Everything.
Edelman, her husband Uzi, and their 3-year-old daughter made an arduous and profoundly life-altering journey to Belize in the millennial year of 2000. Their week-long trip was part Christmas vacation, part parental quest: to seek traditional Maya cures to heal their ailing toddler. And themselves.
“We both desperately needed a vacation, and Uzi wanted to go to Belize for the diving,” Edelman says. “I investigated and thought: It’s a stable democracy and they speak English. OK, I’ll go!”
It was their Nicaraguan nanny, Carmen, who suggested the trip could also serve as a healing treatment for Edelman’s daughter, whose troublesome imaginary friend and alarmingly feverish respiratory ailment were proving tough to neutralize.
“I was not really ‘alternative’ at all in 2000,” Edelman says. “Bush doctors? Cures? My child had a fever and croup and so, naturally, I took her to our pediatrician to get some medicine.”
At the time, Edelman remembers, there was a lot of stress in their household. “My husband was working 90 to 95 hours a week in his start-up, I was feeling very uncertain about my writing career. … This imaginary friend was intense … our child was sick. … It was a perfect storm of events.” Her husband was open to alternative healthcare therapies, Edelman continues: “So, I agreed to see a healer in Belize.”
Author of The New York Times best-selling Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers, as well as two other critically acclaimed non-fiction books, Edelman lost her own mother to breast cancer when she was 17. This early tragedy weaves itself throughout Edelman’s writings, offering a poignant perspective on making one’s way in the world without fundamental maternal guidance, so often taken for granted.
Accordingly, Edelman shapes this — her fifth book — with her signature journalistic eye, her lilting, poetic language, and the over-arching sensibility of a mother parenting a child while still processing her own mother-loss.
“I think the fact that I didn’t have my mom became a very important part of this story,” Edelman says. “Here I was, a new mother, with all these questions and no one to go to for answers. … The fact that a strange imaginary friend was thrown into the mix didn’t help. … And because I felt I needed her advice, my mother became more of a character in the book than I had anticipated. And mother-loss became a much stronger theme than I had planned for. … It was very eye-opening.”
The whole journey was eye-opening. Surrounded by the lushly beautiful Central American rainforest, Edelman and her family learned of ancient Maya astronomy, exotic medicinal jungle plants, and cleansing prayers whispered in Spanish and Mayan by respected bush doctors. It was an overwhelming feast for the senses and for the writerly imagination.
“It took me six years to write the first 150 pages,” Edelman says, and the rest came relatively swiftly, under the aegis of the publisher’s contract.
But how to market it?
Edelman, known for meticulous research and investigative journalism, had now written her first book-length memoir, which spanned many genres. In other words — from the publishing perspective — it was difficult to categorize.
“It was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love that showed publishers that there’s an audience for women’s spiritual journeys,” Edelman says, “and for books that don’t fit neatly into one category or another.”
Marketing-wise, Edelman also tapped into a nationwide network of literary salons: privately organized book readings hosted by writers for fellow writers. These gatherings bring new books to new readerships in settings more socially oriented than traditional bookstore tours.
“Salons are so enjoyable,” Edelman says. “People have food and drinks, they get to hang out with authors for a couple of hours and socialize and network. We still stick to the regular format of reading and Q and A … but it’s more intimate, more relaxed.”
Beneficial for book sales, too.
Proceeds from The Possibility of Everything are being donated to Belizean children’s nutrition and education programs. It’s a concrete way for Edelman to give thanks for the spiritual gifts she and her family have received.
“After we came back from Belize, my worldview had been dismantled and reconstructed. … I began to think more in terms of the spiritual … to trust in that, and have faith in it.”
Edelman has journeyed to Belize four times since the millennial trip, for research purposes and to attend Maya healing workshops taught by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, a prominent figure in the book.
Yet, make no mistake: Edelman retains her solid realism.
“Belize had attained mythic stature in our family,” Edelman says. “But my romanticism about the country dissipated and was replaced by my pragmatism. It’s a third-world country with bone-crushing poverty. … It was impossible to witness that and not find a way to help.”