On Mother’s Day eve, I read from my book to a warm, friendly group of both friends and strangers who had come to reflect on motherhood, whether as mothers themselves; as children of mothers; as those who wish to be mothers; as co-parents. Some had warm, happy memories of motherhood, and others had more conflicted and challenging memories and feelings.
I read from Isaac’s birth story, the story of our bonding immediately after and the profound shift that happened in my universe from that event, and from the story of my mother’s death, five weeks after Isaac’s birth. It was intense stuff, and I was deeply touched that, as one person told me, “you could have heard a pin drop” as I read. I was moved by re-entering those stories, and my audience touched their own deep experiences in those moments.
So it was a surprise to me that the shaking and trembling I felt as I started to read did not dissipate. Rather, it got quite pronounced. First, I searched futilely for a middle rung on the chair for my feet; then I used one hand to steady the other; when that didn’t work, I rested my hands and the folio containing the reading on my shaking knees. Nothing really worked.
Why didn’t I write a book on something just a little less vulnerable, I had to ask myself. Something lighter (I really enjoy comedy and could use a laugh or two)? Something that wouldn’t make me sweat, shake and choke back tears at the most evocative moments?
People told me that they went to their own deeply personal and deep places during that reading.
“I’d forgotten what childbirth was like; I remembered my own birth experience – I was there again – as I heard you read,” one woman shared.
“I was with my mom when she died, and I relived that moment tonight,” one of the men shared.
Not everyone wants to go to intense and deep places in their memories. For our time of creating together in painting and drawing and collage, however, those deep places fed the art that each of us wanted to create. We could explore the joys of mothering or being mothered; we could also explore the shadows and the ambiguities. Greeting cards don’t often give us such nuanced ways to express those profound and human feelings.
That vulnerability that I clearly felt – and shared transparently with others – gave them permission to do the same in their art. And they took that permission and ran with it. What a beautiful expression of community in wilderness places.