Ashley Judd – A Personal Journey Of All That Is Bitter And Sweet

By Kaye Cloutman

I did not know what to expect the afternoon I was to see Ashley Judd. It was my first time to attend a book event at the Corte Madera branch of Book Passage and frankly I was a little distracted by an earlier message I had received about my daughter. Shaken by this message, I was beginning to have some self-doubts and was embroiled in my own little second-guessing game as I made my way to Corte Madera. My career has recently experienced a transformation. Although beautiful and idyllic to some as it may seem, I found myself being pulled in many directions often leaving a gaping hole of insecurity in the place where my daughter should be. That day, I felt behooved to take her along, she was with me and as it turns out, I am grateful for her presence for this occasion.

Ashley was introduced by Kathryn Petrocelli of Book Passage and the modest author stood at the podium with an aura that can only be described as immaculate – she began her talk by respectfully engaging the audience with a solemn prayer, declaring it as essential for her “guiding spirit” to prepare her heart and mind so she might more candidly and openly describe the story of her journey to the sea of non-judgmental eager faces who were there to listen to her.

I was in awe, just like everyone else, the minute Ashley began to speak of her childhood. She explained it in the most eloquent way. No nonsense, no sugar-coating – it felt real. Initially, there were a few laughs here and there as she shared awkward childhood moments about family and herself but as the minutes progressed it was clear that Ashley drew strong senses of emotion from all of us. A noteworthy advocate of Population Services International (PSI) whose goal is to improve the health of the poor and vulnerable people in developing countries, Ashley displayed sincere compassion evidenced by the intense pain in her voice after discussing some of her most unforgettable chapters of abuse and rape experienced by four girls from the book. We were then transported to the brothels and slums in Asia and war torn communities in Africa. She was such a gifted storyteller in the sense that her words evoked both joy and pain in my heart at the same time and that is not easy to achieve.

Her voice, the room, the quietly intent women and men who seemed frayed as Ashley enumerated countless tales of unheard tormented voices from all over the world – I won’t be able to shake off this feeling for a long time. She ended that night with a story that will forever be embedded in my heart and I unexpectedly saw my daughter’s hand creeping towards mine, holding it intently as if she were to never let go. It seemed that whatever adolescent issues she was having that day all appeared ridiculous and small after her eyes were opened by Ashley Judd to the harsh realities of this world. In my part, I as a mother truly empathized with her being a lost child.

That night was the beginning of a renewed journey for me and my daughter. In a beautiful event which surely left many attendees inspired and grateful at the end, conversely, I treasured the priceless ineffable gift we gained. Deciding that for me and my daughter the event wasn’t actually finished but rather just getting started, I took it further by driving to one of the most charming spots we know nearby. With the moon reflecting on the beautiful view of the Tiburon waters, I held her in my arms as if she were a small child again. We had made a pact within ourselves that this was going to be our own special place.

If you read the book please forget about the fact that The Judds have been country royalty for years; some may also have seen them as a dysfunctional family; I see them as tortured souls who were able to rise above and beyond their own challenges. The deck of cards they were dealt only bestowed them those flushes and full houses in the latter part of their lives but beneath their fame and fortune lies a history replete with agony and tragedy. If you seek a typical celebrity “tell-all”, airing of dirty laundry and lovers in the story, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, I suggest you try to embrace the innocent little girl who has been looking for herself for the longest time when you open this book and bear witness to how she eventually found home by embracing the world’s other lost children while allowing her to make peace with herself. Filled with real life struggles and triumphs, All That Is Bitter And Sweet (Ballantine Books, $26.00, 432 pages, 9780345523617) is a deeply moving memoir I can read from cover to cover, over and over and intend to pass on to my children to serve as a testament to the beautiful virtue of unconditional love.