We gather in our quiet, secluded space at the recently constructed, variegated-beige stone Crozet Library, bringing the life-story we have written in preparation at home. We greet each other warmly as each woman arrives, and ask how things have been since we last gathered. “We missed you last time,” or “How is your arthritis/pneumonia/or other recent ailment healing?” or “Here’s the book I promised to bring you last time,” are some recent observations I’ve heard. When we have caught up with everyone’s well-being, we transition to preparation to share our stories, written from thematic prompts given at our previous gathering two weeks earlier.
I feel a change within myself then—a melting away of all the information that flows like a river through my mind nearly all day, every day—sort of like turning off a news broadcast that leaves blessed silence in its place. A woman volunteers to read her story to begin our shared two hour gathering. I take a deep breath and exhale any stray interior distraction that might be lingering and prepare to fully listen to her words. She speaks her first sentence and everything else evaporates except her voice and what I hear in the words of this story of her life. She reads through it all and when finished we spontaneously affirm whatever the story has stirred within us. “I’ve been in that place, too,” or “What a powerful story you’ve written,” or “My favorite part of the story was when you said, ‘this’ or ‘that.’”
I listen closely to my heart’s response to the story and then share those thoughts with the writer, as does each of our seven members. When I look around the circle at each woman, I see we are as diverse as apples on a tree. After we’ve read and heard and discussed all our stories, we plan our topic for the next gathering. When we leave this place, we go home to different communities, different churches, and varied lifestyles; we have different ethnic backgrounds and hold dissimilar political ideals; we live alone or with family members or with pets. Although we seem at first to be so different, each time we share stories from our lives—and share laughter, sadness or tears, or other emotions–comfort or celebration–we form a richer bond. We discover we are not so different, after all.
Recently, we each shared “The Story I Don’t Want to Write.” When we met two weeks afterward, we agreed that was the moment in time when we opened a clearer, deeper bond with each other. We had known from previous gatherings that when we shared difficult stories, we were in a space filled with trust, respect, and confidentiality.
I pondered our time together that afternoon while driving home, those stories that had been heard and responded to with such honor, support, and compassion. Some women had also shared their own connecting threads with a particular story. And I wondered—avid, life-long mystery reader that I am—what was that silent, deeper layer that circled between us? After all, women have been sharing their stories for centuries.
When the answer came to my heart, I knew it was absolutely right.
Our time together was not only nurturing, it was sacred.