Photo credit: YoLoPey / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
We save our own lives. Seems simple enough. We fall apart to various extents at several different points in our lives, and we find a way to steady ourselves, breathe and keep moving. We save our own lives. But so often we give that away, credit others with picking us up and putting us back together again. We tell the story of our triumphs over what tripped us and sent us flying, wild and breathless, into uncharted territory; we tell that story and forget that we’re the protagonist. The hero.
We forget that we’re the ones who did the hardest work and saved the fucking day. Survival looks like a group effort, but when we’re crying so hard it feels like bones will break, like boulders are coming loose inside and ripping into soft tissue on their way down, we’re on our own. We’re alone when going to sleep with weak, absurd hope that tomorrow will be better, and we’re alone when getting out of bed after realizing today feels much the same as yesterday.
We save our own lives, and this spring has been my chance to relearn that truth, one which has sharpened my sense of survival in the past but which I had lost sight of these past few years. I had forgotten that my life was mine to shape, to direct. And even after coming to the crossroads of divorce and choosing the hardest path, I forgot that I made that choice with my own brain and walked that path with my own feet, sometimes dragging myself along, sometimes chanting, sometimes singing, sometimes wrapped up in the quietest quiet, alone.
This spring I met a group of fifteen fierce, brave women and became reacquainted with myself in the process. I ran into the me who lived in Paraguay for the summer at 16, who co-owned a bakery and ran a community newspaper, who moved abroad because why not?, who tackled graduate school with a newborn because why not now? and founded a tech startup because who else?. The me who makes the hard decisions and then puts them on the badass resume inside her head, the one she consults when wondering if she’s got what it takes to do the next hard thing. The me who knows she does.
I wrote, auditioned and performed an essay at the Listen to Your Mother show in Kansas City last week. Thirteen cast members and myself told our stories about motherhood to some three hundred people. I was told by many in the audience it was a night they will not soon forget, and those of us in the cast are forever changed as well. My essay was about coming to terms with feeling like a part-time parent after my divorce last year and missing my kids more that I can bear some days.
Pre-show Huddle. Photo credit: Dawn Swanger Photography
The writing process was difficult but cathartic and helped me clarify my thoughts around all the different emotions I’ve been feeling. The performance was, for me, something else entirely. How would I keep the composure needed to talk for five minutes about the most personal and painful topic in my life right now? I struggled with this at rehearsals because I still struggle with this in life. Even on my best days I’ll become quiet and sad and have to work on feeling how much I miss them at that moment, sending them love and releasing those feelings. I mostly suck at it, but I’m not giving up.
The thing about the Listen to Your Mother experience leading up to the performance is that I saw this community forming among the cast and our producers based on having told our stories to each other, built on empathy and humor and constant reminders of our own resilience, our grit. It was while I was supporting new friends in telling their hard truths that I relearned one of my own: we save our own lives.
And one of the ways we can know we’re strong enough to face whatever’s coming is by telling our stories in a way which gives us credit for our own survival. We wake up. We show up for ourselves and for others. We push through and make it out, over, beyond. We can’t even see the destination from the middle, but still we persist. We’re the ones who were there for it all, the protagonists, the heroes. I have had a tremendous amount of support from friends and family and don’t have the words to express my gratitude to them. I don’t mean to minimize what their presence and encouragement has meant to me. But I imagine someone hearing my story and thinking, “You did that because you had that support system. I could never do what you did.” I would tell that person, the woman in her own make-or-break moment, that I did the hardest part by myself – that we all do – and that she can, too. That I survived and she will, too. That we save our own lives.
Tell your story like it’s your story. Be the hero. “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.” It’s your truth. You’ve earned it. Each moment of survival is a weight which keeps us from blowing over quite so much when the next storm hits – and even builds in us the fortitude to seek out storms just to show what we’re made of. Each weight is also a gift, a story we can give away as many times as we need to. “Look at this. I did this, and you can do it, too.”
Listen to Your Mother takes place in 32 cities in the U.S. around Mother’s Day. Check out their website for more information and for links to watch performances. I’ll be posting mine here when it’s uploaded to their site. If you have something to say on the topic of motherhood, consider submitting. The experience for me was like therapy, boot camp and summer camp all in one. And I adore my fifteen+ fierce, brave new friends.
Maggie Kuhn said, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” I don’t know who changed it to truth, but I like that better. Maggie was pretty fierce and brave herself.
The next blog post contains a poem I wrote the day of the Listen to Your Mother show. Check it out here.