He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.
In early October, a friend of mine messaged me- somewhat out of the blue- about an upcoming conference she thought might interest me. She’d attended before and wanted to know if I’d like to join her this time. For those of you who have been reading for a while, Deb is the acquaintance I mentioned in Disappearing Act– the one who sent me the lovely email. When Deb mentioned the name of the conference my interest was immediately piqued.
This happened on the day I launched this blog. I’d just told my first story, publicly. I immediately felt as though this was something I was supposed to attend. I decided to register. Then she told me one of my favorite writers was scheduled to speak. I thought, Oh, well that’s why I am supposed to go.
When I saw it was in Chicago, a city I love and felt as though I lost in my divorce, I thought, Oh, well that’s why I am supposed to go! I’m supposed to reclaim Chicago! I still had no earthly idea what the conference really was- but I didn’t so much care. I honestly didn’t even really read the write up. I knew I was meant to go.
I kept having those moments throughout the conference. When I first heard Propaganda, a brilliant spoken word artist, perform- and the room was electrified and I wept at the beauty of his words, of HIM- it seemed plausible that he was why I was there.
When I heard Bob Goff speak for the first time I could NOT stop smiling. The room felt bubbly with joy the longer he spoke. I thought, Clearly I am here because I needed a little Bob Goff in my life. BTW, y’all- we ALL need a little Bob Goff in our lives. (side note, I think Bob Goff might be my spirit animal.)
Those were all great, life altering experiences- but they were not why I was in Chicago that chilly October. I was in Chicago for two reasons.
I was at Storyline to hear Donald Miller say the words, What will the world miss if you don’t tell your story?
It’s a great line. The man can write.
The thing is, it didn’t seem like a line. It didn’t seem like a slogan, or a catchphrase. It didn’t seem rhetorical. It seemed like a question being asked of me. A question that required an answer. I straightened up in my chair the first time he said it. I was afraid to look to my right or my left. I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone. I felt shaken. I felt awake.
There were no bad speakers at Storyline. I took something away from each and every session. How often does that happen? I think of Shauna Niequist saying, “Do YOUR THING, with GREAT LOVE, RIGHT NOW.” every single time I sit down to write this blog. I think of Glennon Doyle Melton talking about not wanting to take ANYTHING to the grave with her- and it reminds me that I, too, want to travel light.
But the thing that kept creeping into my head, during other speakers, while I was eating, while I was lying in bed, the thing I could not shake was, What will the world miss if you don’t tell your story? The funny thing is, even a year ago I would have had an answer to that question, and now I’m not sure I do. A year ago I would have said, Nothing.
I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t know what the answer IS- and maybe that’s not for me to say, anyway- but it’s not, Nothing.
One night, the ladies and I were having a late dinner. We were talking about the day and looking at the workbook we were given. The next day’s lunchtime reflection questions were, What is the most painful experience of your life? and While tragedy is something to be grieved, it can be redeemed. How is your tragedy also a blessing to you or others?
I decided to answer the first question. I sat in the hotel bar, with three women I barely knew, and told them my story.
It was the first time I ever said out loud, I am a survivor of sexual abuse.
That’s the second reason I was at Storyline. I was there to sit with those three amazing women, and tell the truth. Shamelessly.
I am a SURVIVOR.
For the first time ever, I didn’t cry telling my story. For the first time ever, telling my story didn’t put me back IN my story. I could look back on that little girl and feel empathy, and compassion- I could feel outrage on her behalf- but I wasn’t her anymore.
I knew it was time to start speaking my truth. I knew it was time to write it down.
It took me a minute, friends. I knew I needed to think about how I wanted to frame it. I knew I needed to do some hard thinking, a lot of praying. I knew I needed to sit and be quiet with it, before I laid myself bare like that. Sometimes that comes at a cost. Once you put something out there, you don’t have any control over what happens to it, and you need to be prepared for whatever reaction it elicits. I knew I would know when the time was right.
Life is so funny- the way things fall into place serendipitously. Just before Thanksgiving, I got a friend request on Facebook from my cousin Mary, who I’d not seen in 35 years. I’d thought of her so many times over the years- my sisters and I were so close with her when we were little- but it had been more than three decades. We never saw that side of our family again. I didn’t know what she’d been told. I was nervous, but, as I am learning to do more and more the older I get, I decided to trust my gut and accepted her request.
In short order we found ourselves on the phone- and it was as though no time had passed. There were many parallels in our lives, lots of ME TOO moments. Then Mary expressed sorrow, and confusion as to why we were separated- why we were torn from each other. Things were going so well, I wasn’t sure I was ready to potentially derail everything by telling her the real reason- so I hedged. I said, Well, I think there were lots of reasons.
It was a long couple of seconds.
Then Mary said, Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. So we did. Sadly, more Me too.
We started to plan a visit. I went up to Massachusetts in the beginning of January, right after I first wrote about my abuse here in The Fault in my Scars.
You guys know what happened next. We told our story.
Officer Paul wrote it down.
Then I did. Then many of you did.
I don’t know that I fully understand why my story matters. I don’t think my story is extraordinary in any way. I just think I’m willing to tell it. Shamelessly.
I am just a tree in the great, wide, breathtaking forest.
Just one tree.
The story of the forest is more interesting, more beautiful, more amazing than the story of any one tree contained within it. The stories of every oak, every maple, every willow, make up the forest’s tale. Our branches brush up against one another, our roots become intertwined- and so do our stories. The story of the forest is our story. There is no OUR story without yours and without mine.
THAT’S why your story matters. I guess it’s why mine does, too. If my story goes untold, or yours does, the story of the forest is lesser for it.
And the world will miss it, friends. It really will.
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