All That is Bitter and Sweet

Being a big fan of Ashley Judd, I looked forward to reading this memoir. I quickly realized it would be unlike many memoirs about famous actors. Like many memoirs of the famous, we do learn about her family life growing up – which was not an easy one. But most of what we learn about Ashley Judd in All That is Bitter and Sweet (by Judd, with Maryaane Vollers) is her personal story of her own healing through helping others around the world. We learn how her life has been a unique interweave of human humanitarian work and her own soul work.

The entwined stories begin with how she came to be strongly involved in Population Services International. You’ll follow her on tough public health missions in Thailand, Africa, Cambodia and India, with wretched stories about HIV, prostitution, abused children, gender-based violence, rape and trafficking in these countries impact her.

And it is no cake walk. At one point, she realizes she had been “trying to take on the pain of the world” and literally made herself sick, “physically, emotionally and spiritually”…and “had no mastery over <her> own trauma and unresolved grief, which was being seriously triggered.” Through the course of her journey as a human rights activist, we learn how she attains that mastery and more. We even learn how she becomes the “Vanna White” of condoms!

Her efforts lead her to use her voice to “speak out at the political level for the voiceless millions whose lives are affected by the policies being shaped in world capitals.” In 2008, she gets to the world’s “most expansive stage: the United Nations General Assembly,” and tells stories about the “insidious enmeshment between poverty, illness and gender inequality” that sets up the “pain and degradation that is sex and labor slavery.”

Judd’s is a story that is so inwardly rich, and outwardly so bold of heart. Gloria Steinem’s take on this book says it all: “Ashley Judd has given us magnetic and searingly honest portrayals of diverse women on screen. Now with the same honest and magnetism, she brings us her true self on the page. From her childhood to her revolutionary empathy with women and girls living very different lives, her path will inspire readers on journeys of their own.”

You are left resonating with the words of Robert Kegan, author of The Evolving Self: “What the eye sees better than the heart feels more deeply. We not only increase the likelihood of our being moved; we also run the risks that being moved entails. Seeing increases our vulnerability to be recruited to the welfare of another.”

That also captures Judd’s journey, which is a life that truly reflects what it means to live true to oneself and the world!

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