Taking My Story Home
This past week I did two speaking engagements in my home town. This was emotionally energizing and draining at the same time. Today I am exhausted, wanting to curl up and do nothing, but for some reason I am drawn to write while my emotion are high. I am undoubtedly my mother’s daughter!
Was I nervous? Of course, but those nerves melted away before I started speaking because of the hugs and smiles I received as people greeted me. I was home. I was in a community where people have known me since the day I was born. I have been gone for nearly 30 years but the feel of North Manchester is still so familiar. I can go to the grocery store where I live now and not know a single person (sometimes that is greatly appreciated) but rarely do I go home and not run into at least one person I know. It comforts me like a favorite pair of well-worn blue jeans. My heart swells every time someone tells me how much I look like my mother. On Thursday I was told by a former student of hers that I have similar mannerisms, especially how I talk with my hands! I love being a reflection of her. Each event was well attended with about 45-55 people respectively, a perfect size for the intimacy of the subject matter. Each day I found specific faces in the audience, people from my past who gave me nods, smiles and tears of affirmation as I spoke.
Thursday night I was on campus. It felt like holy ground and I could feel her presence. The chapel was nearly full with friends ranging from my high school and college classmates to faculty who taught with my mother, fellow church goers from my childhood and former students my mother had mentored and shaped into some of the best teachers today. Surprisingly, other than the handful of my classmates, most people in attendance had not yet read the book. What an ominous feeling to be relaying this story to the hearts of people so close to her who had no idea of the trauma she had lived through. Never once have I questioned my purpose in writing this book but I occasionally wonder if there are people out there who would rather not know the truth. I think students and faculty alike were impressed even more with her brilliance and stamina that outshined the hidden pain. I love hearing stories of how she extended herself to friends, co-workers and students. When her heart softened and her ability to feel was reinstated, she loved from a bottomless well, especially with her students. She was a mother to those who were away from home and provided a safe space when these young people needed comfort. Hearing stories of her compassion lessens the sting of my motherless years. Knowing she was capable of giving and receiving love to so many others makes my loss somehow easier. My mother made a habit of writing to her students following their graduation to continue to nurture and support these young teachers. A former student told me on Thursday that mom had written to her in her final months of life and said something to the effect of “My body can no longer keep up with my personality”. My mother had so many aspirations, she was still creating lists of goals, but she knew that her body could not keep up with her mind – it was finally failing her. How profound.
Saturday brought a completely different group of people. The conference room at the public library was full. Again, there were lifelong friends and neighbors but this group brought high school, college and graduate school classmates of my mother’s. My mother’s roommate during her doctoral summers looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I wish she would have told me!” Yes, Brenda, so do I. How different her life and mine might have been had she been brave enough to tell you what she was going through while she was going through it. They had been friends since high school. Most of us are probably baffled at how she could NOT reveal her truth to this steadfast friend. Shame was a different animal 40 years ago. A handful of my mother’s cousins showed up as the family chatter had made it their way. Some were in disbelief that our family had such secrets but the same ones were nearly distraught about what my immediate family had been through. Also in attendance were Mom’s “holder”, Helen and her Stephen Minister, Susan. I was elated and emotional greeting both of them. Neither of them had read the book yet and possibly didn’t understand how important their individual roles had been in her life, and her death. I had different faces in the audience that brought me comfort and affirmation, different nods and different tears. Every talk will be different just as every person who reads this book will have an individual takeaway.
At the end of Saturday, Susan told me she was going to take the book home and NOT read for a while. She’s scared because she loved my mom so much. There is fear in knowing this reading will hurt. I assured her the book would be there when she was ready. I tell every apprehensive reader the same thing. There is never a rush to read. What a significant experience over all to share this story with people who knew and loved my mother… and never knew. Next week I will share with a group where most will not know either one of us. And it will still be good, and powerful, and just as important in its own way. Before she left, Susan embraced me in the best hug, looked me straight in the eyes and asked, “Are YOU OK?” I smiled and responded, “Yes, Susan, I am OK… probably better than ever.” And it was the truth.