Thank you so much to the friends who came out to see us perform last night at UCI’s event “We Step Into the Light.” Ana did her poem “I Wish I Was Beautiful” and I sang “Caged Bird”–one of the songs on the album we are almost finished writing.
Story. How you tell a story really matters. What story you tell yourself about your life shapes your feelings, actions, and your relationships. At this UCI campus event, sexual assault or abuse survivors were paired up with artists from various disciplines, and each artist was commissioned to tell the survivor’s story. This project was so beautiful to me, because it invited artists to create an intimate representation of someone’s deepest human experiences. Catch: not just the pain, but the beauty and resilience. They chose a perspective that focused on the courage & love in survivors’ lives now, not only what happened to them.
There are several miracles about this project.
First, survivors were willing to tell their stories. This is so rare–so many men and women experience the crushing weight of shame, secrecy, and silence, believing that no one will love them “if they knew.” As Maya Angelou says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Second, the artists were listening. If you are friends with an abuse survivor, one of the most powerful gifts you can offer is your own silence: just listen. Don’t fix. Don’t give advice. Just be present, in their pain.
Third, the artists’ works were an external expression (validation) of the survivors’ internal experiences. Many abuse survivors receive little to no validation about their experiences. Oftentimes, people don’t believe them, or they get blamed. Sometimes their experiences are brutally minimized: shrunk down to crying over spilled milk, when in reality, the very core and fiber of their beings have been shattered & irrevocably altered. Having someone believe and validate the pain is a way of saying: You are a human being, not an object. Your feelings about this are real, and you can have them, whatever it looks like.
Last night a young woman stood up to talk about her experience of being brutally raped as a new college student. She pointed out the artist who had listened to her story and had somehow painted a work that validated her very being and captured her soul. The piece of art wasn’t only about her rape experience. It celebrated her strength and her choice to press into life and move forward.
This is the song that we offered last night. It is called “Caged Bird” and it is partially a reference to Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” As Ana and I have processed our own abuse stories this year, these songs have become an external memorial to our experiences, and our own struggles toward freedom. It’s our hope that they will be validating for other people’s experiences as well.
Nobody heals alone. Nobody. I don’t care if you’re the Pope–we are still made for relationship and we need one another to move through and beyond our experiences. And we need to own all the pieces of our stories: the pain AND the beauty. Without the pain, the beauty is shallow and meaningless. Without the beauty, there is no hope.
What story are you telling yourself today? Do you leave out the painful experiences, minimizing your own losses, to just “move on”? Or do you focus so much on the grief that you are blind to your own internal resilience & the gifts your very being offers the world?