When their light has picked you out/ and their questions are asked, say to them:/ “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon/ will come around you. The heron will begin/ his evening flight from the hilltop. – from Do not be ashamed – Wendell Berry
The second a phrase like “Do not be ashamed” comes across the table, the whole circle is changed. The air is electric. We know we’re in for something. It’s a challenge straight from the teeth of a poet: an imperative, an edge, a subversion. In quiet that follows, we wrote, we spoke, and consistently expressed the same understanding: our greatest act of subversion and greatest gift to one another is to become vulnerable.
We were afraid, sure. That’s a given. The circle is quiet and people spoke quietly, especially at first. The pauses between words were long. Some women opted not to share their work. Some women read quickly or slowly or without expression or with so much, it was almost a performance. In each voice was an imbedded fear. But that means within each written piece, there was bravery.
When I asked, “What are we afraid of when we share? What do we think is going to happen?” The women got louder: judgment, rejection, pity, and inauthentic sympathy – the burn of a story being swallowed and never heard. But if just one of us says out loud that we are afraid, concerned, confused, anything, we make space for the fears of others. We help each other know that we are not alone. And then we’re not speaking quietly anymore. We’re making sure we’re heard. We’re talking and telling again and again. We say thank you and mean it.
Below is a collection of our words from the last session.
“Always forgotten, never forgiven”
Never to be accepted, but pondered about; as if I was something forbidden. Try as I may, I can’t escape it—I am the black cat.
I’ve tried to fight it, but just came to – I can accept that. “Stay away! Don’t get too close!” To like me is a sin. Don’t get near me. Don’t let them in. Poker face. Don’t let them see…for if they do, they just may realize; they’re just like me.
The irony is that I felt more of my emotional hardness dissolve when I’d gone into her office feeling insecure and somewhat meek. Afraid of all the soft places inside.
There is so much potential in the near future for me and I am ready and willing to accept my new life on the outside of these prison walls where I can take in the sure horizon that is around me. I feel a sense of serenity overcome me in my soon to be new environment that I will be escaping to very soon and it helps me to escape this prison of torment that I have been living in over the past 3 ½ years of incarceration and I am ready to escape into the new sure horizon that is around me.
I struggled to breathe and clean the muck of you off with cedar branches, walk my flaming self home with the stars overhead rocketing down, roaring in chorus. If I wished on every one, some would be for you, but not all. There’s enough of them up there, enough wishes to love as many fishes, flowers, and trees. I’ll lump you in with the rest. I’ll care for you, yes, but that makes you the same as everything else.