Even the most private person sometimes feels a call to share the things that matter. I'm not one of them. A private person, that is. I over-share as a rule. So When I heard about the LTYM call for submission, my default reaction was 'But of course!'
My head is usually crowded with the kernels of tales so it was easy for strands to start forming around the theme of 'motherhood'. I grabbed the one that floated closest by - a shimmery, warm thing - and pinned it down in words. It turned out to be reminiscences about my young mother in our Africa days. It took the form of a homage to her love, spirit and beauty.
As my audition date drew closer though, my unrest grew in surprising ways. You see, another story had worked it's way into my mind and was refusing to be banished no matter how hard I tried. It was a little sordid, sad and was a misfit for a positive Mother's Day event.
But I had little hope of making it through a competitive public selection process and this particular story would not quit tugging at me, no matter how I tried to ignore it. Strategically too, while an homage to my mother and the joy it would bring her was invaluable, so was a chance to talk about something that most people shun. To right an imbalance in my own way. Also the LTYM call for submissions was crystal clear about wanting ALL kinds of stories.
So I sat myself down, shoved the misgivings to the side and wrote out 'first unborn', detailing what it was like to meet the deceased fetus from my miscarriage right years ago.
After my loss back then, I had no outlet. Even the most caring friends didn't really know how to react and console so they maintained a respectful distance from the topic. I, in turn, hesitated to preemptively bring it up (though I know I needed to) in order to spare them vicarious distress. The grief had bottled up and I was not doing well. I found an anonymous message board and two compassionate friends to whom I released a few thoughts, gaging their reactions and stopping when they seemed to hurt. Then I gathered myself together and strode forward, trying to leave it behind.
Eight years later, I was to find that though my life was full of joy (and a 7 year old), ghosts lingered in carefully ignored recesses of my mind.
The morning of the audition, I flipped maniacally back and forth about which piece to read aloud: warm homage or raw confession? I knew which one needed to be heard so others would perhaps not struggle the way I did. If even one person heard me, felt the value of release and learnt to extend a listening ear to heal another, that would make it worthwhile.
At the Boston Improv in Cambridge, Cheryl came out to greet me 10 minutes before my alloted audition time. She looked exhausted at 3 pm and shared that this 10 minute breather was the time the team of three producers took to recover from the previous story. The care and integrity started broadcasting themselves at that moment. They listened carefully enough to require a recovery period? Wow.
Inside the little black box theater, Jessica warned me that she was a crier and I was to pardon the sniffles in advance. The box of tissues were placed directly in front of her.
Phyllis wore a warm if exhausted, smile and an expression of compassion that convinced me she was already on my team. They had all read both my pieces beforehand and were obviously bracing for whatever I would slam their way.
I'm wordy to a fault so feeling at a loss for them is a rare experience for me. Yet that's how I feel about what came next.
LTYM readings are meant to be 5 minutes long so it didn't take very long but they were some of the most transformative minutes of my life. Not to sound ungrateful, but sharing with 200 ticketed audience members in a prestigious venue on the actual day paled to the experience of having three caring, engaged strangers opening their hearts to be touched.
I read slowly, looking at each upturned, pale face in turn. Each set of eyes locked with mine every time I landed on them. Their faces reflected emotions that must have mirrored mine. And THAT is what did it. The validation was not just that caring people heard me out, but that they felt my feelings too and so set me free.
Those 5 minutes set me free.
I was no longer the only ones to have felt those emotions. My two close friends (Radha and Anu) who'd felt them vicariously because of their love for me, weren't the only receptacles of my grief. A few interested strangers had just quietly accepted what I gave them and lifted the weight of it off my weary shoulders.
Since the show, strangers have approached me about the relief they felt at my words. Two therapists have even shared it with grieving groups of patients as a form of treatment. Yet my personal value lay in that little dark theater that held an audience of three.
It feels like two of us walked into that room: me and my Pain.
Only one walked out.
There are not enough words for this.