Well, I did it. A little over a week ago now, I got up on stage to share one of my motherhood stories with 300+ people at the LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER show in Baltimore. And guess what? I’m still alive to tell you all about it. Ha.
Actually, I’d say I’m MORE ALIVE because, truthfully, I don’t remember the last time I felt SO completely present. I don’t remember the last time I felt like what I was doing in any particular moment was THE most important, most meaningful thing I could be doing. I don’t remember the last time I felt so overwhelmed by such love and support, joy and beauty, heartbreak and hope. I don’t remember the last time I felt this connected. I don’t remember the last time I felt this level of pride in a group of human beings working together on a common goal. I don’t remember the last time I was this kind of proud of myself. I don’t remember the last time I was so brave, even though I was so scared. It was SO worth it, SO beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and without a doubt it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
You might remember the post I wrote about how I got involved with LTYM and how unnerved I was by my decision to audition. I don’t think I’ve been able to fully articulate yet the horror and elation I felt when I was selected as a cast member and I don’t think it’s going to happen here today either because I’m still kind of overwhelmed by it all, ok? Those feelings of horror and elation stayed with me to varying degrees for the three months leading up to the show, except for when I was able to slip into a state of denial which was increasingly difficult given that our producers kept emailing us and scheduling meetings.
You might remember the post I wrote about how I’m not the greatest with living things. I understand that spelling it out in the way that I did made me look pretty much like an asshole, but its significant here because this LTYM experience challenged my challenges in that department, forced me out of my comfort zone in ways that I didn’t expect, in ways that I didn’t even want initially, to be frank.
You might remember some of the posts I’ve written in the past few months, like this one, in which I share the heaviness and pain I feel about the current state of our world, how ugly it feels to me so often, and the way the ugly sometimes screams much louder at me than the beautiful, and how much I hate that. This storytelling movement turned that upside down for me and I hope I will never forget it. I am going to work to stay connected to these people and to this movement, not in an effort to turn my head away from the ugly realities we face, but so that I can be part of a movement aimed at building connection and beauty, and maybe in our collective beauty we can even change some of the ugly. Because LTYM is beautiful, pure and simple. And needed.
From the moment we came together for our first rehearsal in March, I felt myself being pulled into something way bigger than myself. And usually, the only time I experience something like that and ALLOW it without running the other way is when I’m at a Springsteen concert. This was obviously a much more intimate setting and so it was a challenging dance for me. I was pulled in, I backed away (my favorite step), I was pulled in again…and again…and again…until I started practicing a new step, reaching out for my fellow cast mates, pulling them in closer. Did you ever see The Breakfast Club? This experience felt kind of like that – people brought together by chance, connected in ways they don’t yet understand – but instead of taking place in the course of only one day, we revealed ourselves to one another over a couple of months. As we shared our stories, our community was lovingly knit together, stitch by stitch, with yarn so strong it was not to be unraveled. We became trusted strangers with an undeniable bond. Our paths never would have crossed had it not been for LTYM and our passionate, dedicated producers Taya Dunn Johnson and Arlene Jackson, and I am exceedingly grateful. The unrest in Baltimore after the horrific killing of Freddie Gray made the unity we created that much more meaningful, healing.
As show day approached, I was pretty much scared shitless. I never considered bailing or anything, I was just really, REALLY scared. I’m not so much a spotlight person and I’ve never spoken in public, so the fear isn’t so hard to understand, right? About a week before our show, I went to see the LTYM DC show with our producers and one of my fellow cast mates. As we walked down the aisle to our seats, I grabbed my cast mate and apparently I dug my fingers into her shoulder, deeply, because I was having some sort of holy-shit-what-did-I-get-myself-into-and-HOW moment. But then, watching and listening to the DC readers as they shared their unique stories of motherhood in the context of the bond they clearly created together helped to calm me down. And as each story was revealed, I became an integral part of their experience. It wasn’t something to be feared anymore. In fact, after the show, my cast mate and I looked at each other, hugged, and she said, “we’ve got this” and we really believed it. We might have different experiences but after all is said and done, we are all the same. We’re just people, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, doing the best that we can. There was no place more important for me to be in that moment than right there, witnessing the motherhood stories bravely shared by that group of people. Because sharing our stories is brave. Being vulnerable is brave. Being present and witnessing the stories of others is a gift and it breeds understanding and compassion. Our stories need to be heard because LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL AND LIFE IS HARD. And it’s only in the sharing that we know we are not alone, and really not so different after all.
I think thats what helped me to cool my jets and pushed me to let go a little more, to breathe more deeply, to open my heart more fully to the opportunity I had been given, to the stories I was witnessing , and to the story I was getting ready to share. I wanted to be brave more than I wanted to stay scared. And for your information, I suck at that in general. I couldn’t have done what I did that day without my 12 fellow cast mates and our producers by my side, but I came to believe that WITH them, I could. And so could they. And we did.
On the day of our show, we arrived hours early at The Jeanette and Harry Weinberg Auditorium on the campus of Mercy High School to go through all of the preparation required when pulling off a live stage performance. There were 2 dressing rooms at our disposal but we all piled into the same one for the first little while, just to feel the might of our togetherness. We sweated it out a little as we waited for our last cast mate to arrive because we weren’t complete without her. We did our hair and makeup, we got dressed, we we voted on shoe choices. Yes, it was unanimous, I went with my red cowboy boots. We had cast photos taken. We had a quick dress rehearsal, made sure we knew our places and took turns speaking into the microphone. I admit I had a brief inner meltdown when the stage manager told a couple of us that we needed to speak up, that we needed to project more. Yeah, dude, projectile vomit, I thought. But it passed.
Then the doors opened to the public and we had about an hour to wait together backstage. We laughed, we held hands, we didn’t talk too deeply about too much, we simply looked at one another as if to communicate, you can do this, we can do this. We peed, and peed some more. We made sure our spanx weren’t dipping below our hemlines. We nibbled on little snacks so we wouldn’t pass out from low blood sugar. One of my fellow readers made beautifully braided sisterhood bracelets, one for each of us, and we tied them onto our wrists in solidarity. We have a yogini in our tribe and she led us through a breathing and guided meditation exercise that literally grounded us and further bound us together by our roots. Our producers led us in prayer and we had a group hug, took the last few selfies.
And then it was time. Just like that. After months of anticipation and work, it was time.
We lined up to take our places on stage.
And then one by one, each of us rose to stand alone at the podium, in the spotlight, with a microphone, our stories in print before us, our sisters behind us, breathing strength and courage into us, our roots forever intertwined, the audience there to witness what we came to share. Like I said, I don’t remember the last time I felt so present. I deeply inhaled and exhaled as each of my fellow cast mates was called to read. I watched her. I felt her. I listened. It was as if I was hearing each of the stories for the very first time. I was in awe of the beauty and pain and hope and hilarity that made up our collective experience. And I was in awe of the bravery, our bravery.
As I read my own story about mothering my son, I remembered something a recent LTYM alumna shared with one of my fellow cast members, who shared it with us in kind. Stay with the story. Stay with the story and all will be well. And it was.
I think I’m going to make a big fat gigantic STAY WITH THE STORY poster to remind me to, you know, stay with the story. I think it sums things up really beautifully, don’t you?
Stay with the story.
P.S. And then we had margaritas.