There’s a lot I don’t know, and that’s putting it mildly.
But I’m a natural seeker, and so I crave knowledge, whether it’s regarding history (say, examining the personal papers of the Founding Fathers for insight into the Great American Experiment) or science (how far has that glacier in Alaska really receded since I stood next to it as a college freshman?) or the spirit (how do the great religious leaders, across the faiths, really feel about redemption?). I like knowing things; always have.
As I age, however, I find myself more and more comfortable with not knowing all the answers. It doesn’t mean that I quit seeking — never that — but it does mean I’m making my way to being okay with the mystery. This is downright wonderful. An incredible relief. A gift.
That being said, I’d like to tell y’all about my night last night: to share with you some of the things I learned.
Because last night I was lucky enough to sit in Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, listening as four astounding women — healers, teachers, faith leaders, writers and activists — shared their stories. As part of something called the Together Tour, speakers Glennon Doyle Melton, Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Seane Corn and Valarie Kaur met onstage as part of “an inclusive, multi-generational gathering where everyone is needed and the audience’s voices are just as important as the storytellers who share the stage.”
Along with several friends, I’d bought a ticket to this event in early summer. I’d heard Glennon Doyle Melton speak two years ago, and fell in love with her beautiful, gut-busting, messy truth-telling. I figured: these days, the world feels particularly rough to me — or, perhaps more likely, I feel more sensitive to the world — and I’m in need of some sheroes (yep, sheroes). Women doing the big, bad, brutal good work.
By the time the event date rolled around, I found myself longing for peace during the clang and clamor of election season. Despite the fact the event was three hours away on a Wednesday night, and meant rearranging everything — kids, dog, work — plus banking on the good grace of my husband, and a dark-as-pitch drive back up into the mountains at one o’clock in the morning, I hoped it would be worth it. I needed it, desperately, to be worth it.
So, despite not knowing much at all, here are some things I know to be true. Things I heard these women say over the course of my evening in Atlanta; things that pinged inside me, in that sweet spot where soul, intellect, and heart meet. I wrote them down in the margins of my program while I sat in the balcony beside my friends. I missed a lot, because each of these brave people had much to say, and I couldn’t write fast enough.
Seane Corne is a yoga teacher and humanitarian. She spoke of losing her beloved father to cancer, and one of the topics she covered was the experience of grief. Grief is an emotion — a scary one — which we tend to numb ourselves to in this country, Corn said. However, it’s a part of the journey, and there is a need for us “to bear witness to the journey as it is.”
Corn said that while lying in bed with her dying father, he shared his regrets, how proud he was of her, how much he loved her, and more. But that she found herself disassociating from the pain, pulling out of the moment. It took many tries for her to really be present, to hear him. She said, “We need to normalize the experience of grief.”
Glennon Doyle Melton talked about the need for us to run towards the pain and the scary things in life, instead of away from them. That we need to do this in spite of the fact that the world tells us — especially us women — to be small and quiet, in oh so many ways. Despite the fact that, “We only talk about shiny feelings in our culture.”
Melton said, “The only thing that grows us is love and pain,” and that, “Grief is just the price of love.” Then — and this one knocked me right in the kisser — she told the audience that we think of growing up and getting older as a series of “becoming,” whether it’s becoming a wife, a mother, a writer, a skinnier, richer version of ourselves. But adulthood, she said, is a process of unbecoming.
Run into the fire of whatever pain you are feeling, Melton said. “It’s not safe, but it’s where the magic is.” And, finally, this: “First the pain and then the rising.”
This is a mere taste of the truths shared over the course of the evening. I only wish all of you—women and men, old and young alike—could’ve been there with me. I walked away with my tank filled. Not absent of fear or free of heartsick for the world, but a bit more ready to walk forward into the mystery.
For more information about the Together Tour and the speakers mentioned above, go to www.togetherlive.com.
Katherine Scott Crawford is a novelist, college English teacher, hiker and mom living in Western North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.