A REVIEW OF
Pilgrim Interrupted: A Collection
By Susan Cushman
Paperback, 250 pages
Inner strength, faith shine through in former Jackson resident’s latest
By Susan O’Bryan
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
Somewhere along my adventures as an avid reader, I heard that the best authors put at least a bit of themselves into their writings. This must be true because Susan Cushman has done just that with “Pilgrim Interrupted: A Collection.”
Her name may be familiar from her growing-up years in Jackson, her memoirs and blogs about her mom and dementia, or her novels that all touch on developing emotional strengths. “Pilgrim Interrupted” is her eighth book.
Through a collection of essays, poems and excerpts, Cushman shares her personal path from the Presbyterian church to the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith as well as her thoughts on writing, Alzheimer’s, adoption, mental health and belonging. Most are deeply personal as she moves forward through life, often with the spiritual support she gains from creating beautiful icons for her church.
Cushman has long been fascinated with writing—the process, the words and the experiences that writing is built upon. In “Pilgrim Interrupted,” the essays demonstrate her growth—as a writer, daughter, wife, mother and a woman of faith. Each is labeled with its associated publication and date. An extra treat for those familiar with Jackson are the mentions of landmarks, events and businesses, like her late dad’s role in the Mississippi Track Club and ownership of Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports.
She explores her paths through various stages of life, her pilgrimage to become all she can be despite the interruptions. In many ways, she writes for all women, acknowledging distractions while always being (or at least trying to) led by faith, hope and truth. Cushman shares stories that ask who we are, who our people are, what we really want out of life, and what our purpose is.
Some might see Cushman as living a gilded life—wife to a doctor, mom to two successful children and a writer with many published works. But as she points out, life is perception. What others see on the outside is rarely a reflection of what’s on the inside. Personal growth comes from struggles, losses—and victories.
Her writing style is so relatable. Whether she’s writing about burying a St. Joseph statue to help sell a house (yes, it’s real tradition), creating gilded tributes to her favorite saint, or surviving a near-fatal wreck, there are pieces of “self” in each essay. Cushman writes from the heart, feels from inside and shares from the soul.
Some of the essays are hard to read, but it’s no fault of the author. It’s the topics, such as discrimination, physical pain and sexual abuse, that make the reader pause, reflect and give thanks for survival. But that’s one of Cushman’s strengths—she takes you into her world, real or imaginary, and leads you out stronger.
Susan O’Bryan, a retired Clarion-Ledger newspaper editor, is a web content editor for Indeed. She is an avid reader who enjoys discovering new writers, plots and angles for fiction and non-fiction publications.