Over-caffeinated and nervous, dangerously close to being late, I hesitated at the bottom of the steps to this gorgeous historical home that I had admired many times in the past. I stood there, gathering myself up for the first group rehearsal for the Listen To Your Mother RDU. Could I do this? What would the others be like? The moment my inner dialogue started to fade, I noticed the children’s artwork decorating the antique leaded glass in the front door, and felt myself calm.
For about 10 minutes.
Introductions and label dropping– Executive/Program/Public Affairs/Interim directors, CEOs, Assistant Professors, Program Directors, Published-in-New-York-Times-Washington-Post writers, lawyers, and me- SAHM, sandwich crust remover.
Truth? Not since September 2002, in my first meeting in a room with Neonatologists and PhD Biostatisticians, have I felt so completely unnerved by others’ bona fides. I read, listened to each of them read; laughed, and cried– all the time thinking, “how did I make it in here?”
I went home and I doubted; then I brushed off my inner Stuart Smalley. You see, choosing to be a genuine part of this group of women with whom I would share a stage required that I see myself– and my story– as equally important. What I Learned, Take
1: Every personal story contains a sentence that will mean something to someone. Someone will hear a line you’ve written about your own life, and assign a meaning based on their own story. Personal stories are powerful–why do you think politicians enjoy them so much?
People talk, and write, a lot about life-altering experiences– total cliché’ right? I can get lost in my head for days thinking about how individual, seemingly meaningless, choices created events of Great Meaning.
Those lone-moment-social-DNA-molecules stranding together to form my long-term memory helices. It’s the momentum of a specific moment that goes forward to create– and recreate– my perspective on life.
What I Learned, Take 1: I practiced my essay while washing dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming, showering; whispered it to myself while grocery shopping. I researched the clothing and shoe styles that best suited my body type and bought those items a full two weeks before the show. In other words, my preparation for this experience came from the exact opposite of my normal. On the Sunday before the show my husband asked if I was nervous about sharing my story in front of a crowd of people.
“No,” I replied. “I’m not nervous about that part at all. I do worry about knocking over the podium.”
“Oh. When’s the last time you performed on stage?”
“Well, it was the 2nd grade, so 1983? But it was a solo.”
The tech rehearsal? Standing in front a room full of empty chairs, trying to deliver your words in a meaningful way? Hard! Standing in front of a room full of people in those chairs– people interacting with your story? AMAZING.
I can’t tell you the first night’s show when I started to feel as if the 14 of us had stopped being individual stories, and had instead become a book of chapters. Perhaps it was the copious amounts of lipstick and eyeliner, or a side effect of the lavender oil overdose, or the moon passing through the end of a comet– I don’t know.
What I do know, with an unflappable certainty, is that my participation on that stage at Peace University with those women and that audience forever altered my path– and I know, I KNOW, that has made all the difference.