Last Saturday night I stood on a stage in front of more than 100 people with nothing but a podium, a microphone, and some words I had written separating me from a room full of strangers. Blinded and a bit disoriented by the harsh stage lights, my words came slow at first. Hands ice-cold and clammy, voice caught in the back of my throat, I silently repeated the mantra taught by my college public-speaking professor: It doesn’t matter that you’re nervous. Just pretend that you’re not. Three or four sentences in, I found my pace, hit my stride, got lost in the telling of my very own story. The more I talked, the more it became clear that I was actually being heard. A room full of people listening to my telling: A story of my fears and inadequacies, culminating in a loss of control and ending with a hard fought resignation. Heads nodding, breath bated, sighs of relief and tears of understanding. I guess in my story some of them recognized their own. Common ground was discovered lying right there beneath that story.
In seven years, 1 month and 23 days of motherhood I have already gained a lifetime of stories. Yes, these three boys of mine have armed me with an arsenal of tales. Tales of hilarious predicaments – bedtime, bathtime and dinnertime shenanigans galore. Stories of those near-perfect moments of pure love and joy; the newborn asleep on my chest, breath heavy and even; the chubby toddler hand curled up inside my own; the gaping, toothless smile of my six year old climbing into the backseat of our car. Everyday is a story of it’s own. Some beautiful. Some heartbreaking. In some, I shine – the mother every child wants – loving, gentle and self-assured. In others I stumble, falter, and fail – too frail in my own abilities to help grow them in theirs. Story upon story, each one builds upon the next until you get a whole life out of the beautiful mess of those jumbled stories.
These stories make us who we are. It’s a part of the human experience to share these stories with one another. This is how we make sense of the world. This is how we find our place in the world. We tell our stories. Truth be told, though, my preference is to tell my stories over a cup of coffee. With a close friend. Or a like-minded sister. It’s safer this way. I risk much less. Little stands to be lost in the type of environment where you are known and loved and people assume the best of you and your motives. But last Saturday, I stood beside ten other story-tellers and together we threw caution to the wind. One by one we took our place behind a microphone that amplified our stories and risked a little bit of ourselves in the hopes that something might be gained. And we had every reason to believe that it would.
In the months prior to last Saturday night, the eleven of us had dared to do exactly what we were asking of the audience that night – we had dared to listen for common ground.
The thing about common ground is that it almost always exists, but it can be oh so difficult to spot. We’re prone to pile our differences up over and on top of it. When I walked into the first rehearsal for Listen To Your Mother at the end of March, there was not too much common ground in sight – and believe me, I was looking. A room full of strangers, each one of us varied. Accents and personalities galore. From reticent to unruly, our motley crew ran the gamut of dispositions. Yet despite our differences, we sat in a tight circle and one by one made our way to the front of a much smaller audience to read the words that revealed a portion of each of our lives. And somewhere in that process of telling and listening we unearthed an entire mountain of common ground.
And I, the type-A, perfectionist, control freak mama of 3 boys found common ground
with a woman who had been a mother since she was 12 years of age.
with a man who shares his mother’s temper.
with a mama who raised a criminal.
with a daughter of a fruitcake.
I could go on, but I guess you get the picture.
We shared and we listened, we laughed and we cried, we formed a bond that we extended with open hands to a much larger audience just last Saturday night. Perhaps most importantly, we learned that when you take the time to really listen to someone’s story you judge less and love more. And that, my friends, is no small thing.
Tell your story. Someone is listening.