This afternoon we had a table read for the Listen to Your Mother Metro Detroit Show. Doesn’t that sound so cool? Table read. Like a TV show. One of the other cast members said, “Oh I love Shonda Rhimes! And now, I feel like her!” Who doesn’t want to be Shonda Rhimes?
We met at Alternatives for Girls in Detroit. AFG is changing the lives of homeless girls in Detroit; and they are the beneficiary of our LTYM ticket sales. You can check out the amazing organization here. There were 15 women in the room, all there to share their stories about motherhood. We sat in a circle, chit-chatted and ate some lovely donated pastries. Thank goodness I didn’t give up dessert for Lent! Our show’s producers- Angela, Angela, and Jessica– didn’t want us to introduce ourselves too fully. They wanted us to know each other through our stories and to read them the way we did in our auditions. This is also how the audience will experience them at the show on May 4. No frills. Women and their stories will take center stage.
I arrived at the table read today nervous and confident. I was nervous to read my full audition piece in front of my fellow castmates. But, I had been chosen from among 50 other women writers who auditioned so I was a little confident, too. I thought that my story and my writing would be among the best in the group. They were neither of those things. The talent of other writers absolutely blew my face off. The raw emotion that the other women captured using only their words was awe-some. And, I did the ugly cry throughout my entire five minutes of reading. Blerg.
On the drive home and the rest of the evening I have been thinking about the women in my circles. The childhood cancer community is like the PhD community. When everyone else in your circle has what you have or is in the process of getting one (a PhD) or experienced what you experienced (childhood cancer), it is easy to become insular and isolated. Only about 3% of American women has a doctorate. I detest the word “rare” when speaking about children with cancer because I believe it dilutes the power of our message and the need for more research funding. However, the number of children diagnosed each year is small. And with only 350 new cases of rhabdo each year, L’s diagnosis was even more rare. Basically for the last 5 years, I have been with people who are exactly like me. This is not a bad thing. I needed and still need those networks of women, especially my fellow momcologists and student affairs parents. I will always need them. But today I learned that as a result of my closed circles, I have lulled myself into thinking that my story, our story, our journey is unique, or would win some prize for most traumatic or most tragic. Not true.
There is no prize for tragic. There is no hierarchy of suffering or pain or misery or grief. There were women in that room today who shared about infertility, divorce, adoption, losing children, burying their parents. And all of this was going on at the same time I was living my own story. Parallel lives. From December 2008 until March 2010 I kept wondering how the world was still spinning. How was it still going while my baby was suffering so horribly and while S and I were so utterly terrified and exhausted? Turns out, most of the other women in that room today were wondering the same things. About their own lives, their own children, and marriages, and parents.
Jessica, one of our directors, said that this experience has made her more patient and more tolerant. That you really never know what someone else has experienced. That people have reasons for the way they act. Everyone has a story. Every.one.
What a gift, honor and privilege to be in that room today. To my fellow castmates, thank you. You are inspiring. And, I thank you for pushing me to want to be a better writer. I can’t wait for dress rehearsal in April and the real deal on May 4, 2014!