Heaven will be a little bit like this. People I care about will be there – mingling, laughing, sharing. My nieces and nephews will be running about, doing cartwheels in the grass. Dogs will dance around us. The light will shine brightly, the sun warmly. We will burst forth with creativity. I will speak about what is meaningful to me and people will listen. I will have a voice and delight in it. We will swap stories and guffaws with equal gusto. I will soak it all in.
Our reading at Hubbard Hall last night was a little bit like this for me. My mother, sister-in-law and my niece and nephew followed my best friend and me, the two-and-a-half hours to Cambridge, NY. My other friends, Joan and Jane, traveled from Waitsfield, Vt. to be there. Our friend, Leslie, who owns two of Joan’s pugs, and lives in Cambridge came out for an evening to hear me share a story about Joan and her pug puppies and letting them go to new homes. Six writers read posts from our blogs that we have been working on over the past year with our mentor, Jon Katz, as part of the Hubbard Hall Writers’ Project. Jon read an excerpt from his forthcoming book, The Second-Chance Dog: A Love Story. We exhibited our artwork, photographs, poems, stories, animations and writings at a reception prior to the reading. It was a night to shine and bubble forth, because in sharing our stories we encourage others to share theirs.
When I finished, I received high praise from my 12-year-old nephew, who rushed to tell me that I was very descriptive. “I could picture everything you said. I could see it,” he said. What other acclaim could I need?
Some called us brave. And, I admit my heart was thumping as I approached the podium to read my work. But, to me this was a moment to relish – a chance to be heard. I think everyone wants a voice, although not everyone wants to stand up in a room full of people to hear it manifested. The night before the reading, I had the opportunity to eat dinner with Jon Katz and his wife Maria. Jon said he doesn’t get nervous in front of crowds and that a child he dreamed of an opportunity to express himself in such a way. I understood what he meant. I have not dreamed of crowds, but of being heard. I have craved it.
When I studied religion in college, I was drawn to the image of John the Baptist, the solitary voice crying in the wilderness. The beginning of my Master’s thesis addresses this image, asking, why John the Baptist? This is what I wrote:
“Always I return to "the Voice." It is the thing to which the gospel authors return as well. Laden with symbolism, it cries out in the pages of the New Testament long after the man himself has disappeared. Can I reconstruct a man from his voice? Can I hang bones and skin and IDEAS on the words "repent, and be baptized?" Sometimes, I think, I resist telling his story, my story of his story, because I am content with his voice...the echo of his voice...the IDEA of his voice..."
It was my own voice to which I was drawn – the need to have one.
Last night, I shared my story of Joan and her pug puppies and was able to capture a moment of the love and melancholy, compassion and stewardship I have seen present in her life among pugs. I spoke about her unconventional lifestyle – transforming from concert pianist to a widow living on a mountaintop in Vermont with 10 to 14 pugs. I spoke about my respect for her in-your-face ability to live life her way and my desire to do the same. My fellow writers shared actual love stories and equally compelling tales of love manifested in parenting and caring for parents or patients, coming out as artists and poets.
Like a prophet, proclaiming his truth, we tried to share ours. Perhaps our stories weren’t revolutionary, but for the five minutes that I read and the hour that I listened to the others share, it felt a little bit like Heaven. There are many reasons to be nervous about speaking up in front of a crowd, but I think there are many more reasons to be nervous not to speak at all. Words give birth to creation. They are creative sparks.