starting a conversation

The heart is able to forgive and repair.
It can change its shape to let us in.
It can expand to let us out.

– From I was there in the room Eve Ensler

Over the course of the past three months, we’ve participated in a group conversation on self-acceptance. That means acceptance of everything: bodies, histories, flaws, and beauties. Sometimes to do that, we need something to jar the system, to shock us into knowledge of ourselves that we didn’t know was the there: un-captured by even the imagination, the unknown unknowns.

Last week, I brought in a monologue from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. It seemed like a natural step or an initiation. I would say vagina a bunch of times out loud. We would talk about our bodies with new words, with reverence. We would know ourselves in a new way. Or we would at least try it out.

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challenge . . . AND gift

the galsLast Saturday, a group of about 60, largely justice and social service professionals and advocates, gathered at Middlebury College to receive the gift of women’s voices. First, the sweet harmonious ones of WomenSing. And second, the courageous and heartfelt personal ones from ‘inside.’ The challenge was was that three of the five previously-incarcerated women who had hoped to attend, did not.

While these odds are not typical of our show rate inside (where our main competitor for group attendance is sleep), it was initially disheartening. But that sentiment didn’t last more than the two minutes it took to decide to move forward without them. The voices of the two women meeting at this reading for the first time rose and fell with their own cadences of regret, sadness, determination and love.

The audience was riveted. After approximately 30 minutes of reading, we opened the floor to questions. What followed was a genuine dialogue of curiosity and gratitude. To give a flavor of the event, which we neither taped nor photographed, I share here a few comments left by listeners in response to the question, ‘what is stirring in you after hearing these stories?’:

What a gift it has been to hear the stories of women in prison. We take so many things for granted. The obstacles they face need the healing that writing brings.

The courage of these women to grow, to forgive, to create a new way of being. How much value everyone brings to this world even when we lose our way for a while.

Women in prison are women who have been hurt deeply without – just one person – to help them heal and recover. Women outside of prison had that one person who saw and heard them. Continue reading