Three-thousand women (and five or six men) gathered at the Chicago Theatre on Tuesday night to collect our marching orders from Glennon, Luvvie and Abby — life gurus who, like Oprah before them, feed us wisdom and hope and need no last names.
They were in town for “Together Live,” a speaking tour headlined by the three superstars: Glennon Doyle launched the Momastery blog and wrote two New York Times best-sellers — “Love Warrior,” most recently; Luvvie Ajayi co-founded the nonprofit Red Pump Project to de-stigmatize HIV and wrote a New York Times best-seller of her own, “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual;” and Abby Wambach who won a couple of Olympic gold medals playing soccer, wrote “Forward: A Memoir” and, last year, married Doyle.
Ajayi lives in Chicago full-time, so Tuesday was a brief visit home for her. The tour has traveled to eight other cities, including Minneapolis, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Each show weaves a slightly different cast of speakers together — actress Connie Britton joined the crew in Nashville, author Jen Hatmaker was onstage in Austin, Texas.
The Chicago audience heard from wellness expert Latham Thomas, U.S. Olympic fencing team member Ibtihaj Muhammad, human rights activist Alisa Roadcup and writer/activist Jamia Wilson.
The group gathered on a couch onstage and took turns sharing stories about obstacles and fears they’ve overcome on the way to figuring out their purpose in life.
“I can’t live with fear anymore,” Ajayi told us. “That can’t be what decides how I live my life.”
She declared 2015 her “Do It Anyway” year and traveled the world, immersed herself full time in writing and jumped out of a plane.
Doyle and Wambach talked about their own leaps of faith — Doyle out of a broken marriage; Wambach, who grew up thinking she could be gay or loved by God but not both, into the arms of a “Christian blogger,” as Doyle is known (somewhat dismissively, I would argue) by many.
Doyle was terrified of hurting her kids. Her job, she thought, was to stay with their dad and protect them from as many of life’s fires as she could.
But that felt both heartbreaking and false. So she decided, she said, to teach them a different lesson: That they’re fireproof.
She left her marriage. She introduced them to Wambach. And when everyone felt ready, she said, they made it official. Doyle’s daughter Tish was the one who proposed, Wambach said.
It’s a sweet story that makes for good theater. They’re still in the first few chapters, and they clearly delight in sharing it aloud with others — in part, I think, to inspire the rest of us to make decisions based on our own instincts and values and hearts.
“Stop asking other people for directions,” Doyle said, “to places they’ve never been.”
I like that.
Tuesday’s event was the second time in a week I found myself gathered in a large, beautiful room listening to an oracle of sorts.
Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Chicago last week for a series of events, and I caught him in discussion with writer Alex Kotlowitz at an Erikson Institute luncheon at the Drake Hotel.
There too, the audience sat rapt with attention as the brilliant author of “Between the World and Me” and “We Were Eight Years in Power” talked about the history of racial redlining in Chicago, his childhood in Baltimore and the rise of President Donald Trump.
Coates doesn’t traffic in hope. It’s not his job, he told Kotlowitz, to offer people hope, and it’s not something he’s particularly interested in weaving into his writing. He’s a journalist, and thus a narrator and a history teacher.
But he helps us understand.
And that’s what I left each event thinking about: the various ways in which this world helps us understand our place, our purpose, ourselves.
We have to seek out that help. Some of us find it in houses of worship. Some of us find it in art. Some of us find it in therapy. Some of us find it in all of those places and more.
I was helping my son zip up his hoodie Wednesday morning, the day after the Luvvie/Glennon/Abby-fest. He’s zipped up that hoodie 100 or so times, and it still, every once in a while, trips him up.
We took our time and got the teeth all pointing where they needed to be and made sure the fabric wasn’t sneaking where it shouldn’t be. It’s a simple thing, zipping, but it can go wrong quickly.
I thought about how habit isn’t always the best teacher. I thought about how doing something 100 times doesn’t necessarily mean you remember all the rules. I thought about how the stuff that other people seem to grasp so quickly can feel really, really bewildering.
I thought about how a little guidance can put us back on the right path — not the same path as everyone else, but the right path for us.
I thought about how grateful I am for people who help us understand.