“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.” -Anne Lamott
I was recently asked to give a talk on “Public Speaking” for a yoga teacher training at a local studio. I have a reputation of being articulate and direct and that USUALLY translates well when I’m in front of a group of people. My own teaching has dwindled down to 2 classes a week, and my time has gone towards writing and my family. I was psyched to lead the group because not only is public speaking the thing I love to do the MOST, but I got to speak ABOUT speaking! In the lecture, I covered all of the basics; staying away from sing-song, breathy, why-the-fuck-are-you-talking-like-that “yoga voice,” tricks on how to remember your lefts from your rights, and the grammatical difference between lay and lie down. But while I was preparing for my talk, the same phrase kept popping up in my notes: be authentic, be authentic, be authentic.
And so, with the proverbial writing on the wall, I set out to share HOW to find Authenticity. I did a quick google search and gave up after 3 minutes of dull statistics and business case-studies. I began thinking about my own life and the experiences that I have had to get me to where I am now. At home, I ran upstairs to the room that has yet to be unpacked and found a few blank pieces of paper in a printer that has yet to be set up. I started writing down words like “honesty,” “truth,” “mirror,” “coincidences,” “Universe,” and “opportunity” in an order that somehow resembled a fucking flow chart on my page. It was like I was the goddamned mathematician in A Beautiful Mind, or Jerry Maguire relentlessly coming up with my mission statement. My hand couldn’t stop moving, my heart wouldn’t stop racing and it was as if I had found the core of my being in both the process and the outcome. I sent it off to a few friends for feedback. In the hours that I waited to hear from them, I had flashbacks of every time I have felt stark-naked, free-falling vulnerable. This ranked near the top and these were my like-minded, closest people. How would I dare share this with anyone else?
I am not a scientist. I am not a researcher. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a preacher. I hold a minor in Psychology from a Liberal Arts College that I received in 2001. None of the things I learned in those 4 years apply to my chart. The drawing is a deep knowing and interest of my own truth. When I decided to bring it with me to the yoga teacher trainees, I knew I would have to make it clear that I wasn’t “teaching at” them, but rather, “sharing with” them. I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone except me. I haven’t walked a single step in anyone else’s shoes. And quite honestly, who the fuck am I?
The talk went better than I could have ever imagined. Half of the class was in tears and everyone was taking notes. One woman gave an example of a stage in her life that went directly through the chart without a single hitch. People were nodding their heads and staring at me in timid disbelief all at the same time. There was something there. It was the spoken truth about relatable topics that are sometimes difficult to say out loud. It was so intimate that the experience needn’t be shared, but kept sacred for the people in the room. I later heard from 5 of the students. They all said, “thank you.” And some said, “do it again.”
Last week I had a cancer panic. I say, “panic,” because “scare,” seems synonymous with “almost.” I didn’t almost have a reoccurrence, but I found myself in a panic over a lump in my breast. I went to the doctor on Monday and instead of saying, “it’s muscular,” like I was hoping she would say, she instead said, “I feel it too, you need to get a mammogram.” It was a blow to the gut and I could feel the protective mask of “here we go again, let’s do this” start to cover my tear stained face. From the stairwell leaving my doctor’s office, I called my chemotherapy nurse, Beth for guidance and reassurance and… I don’t even know… I guess I needed to hear her calm, familiar voice in the midst of my fear storm to keep me from capsizing. I called my Dana Farber PA friend, Deb. I called my Oncologist at Dana Farber. I called Lahey. I called another Lahey. And because I am a persistent woman who doesn’t fuck around, and because there was a very kind nurse on the other end of one of those lines, I had a mammogram set up for the very next morning.
That night I came home and got out my laptop. Mike and I had no words to say except, “I love you.” We were catapulted right back into Survival Land, and for us, it’s a place where language is mostly exchanged through eye contact. I sat down at our kitchen table and started writing because I had promised myself that I would blog at least once a month and it had already been 17 days. This cancer panic threw me right back into the “What do I want to do with this one precious life?” place. I want to write. I want to speak. I want to share stories and create safe places for human connections. I want that energy to resonate with other human beings. I contacted Katy, the yoga studio owner, and pitched the idea of offering my Authenticity Talk as a public workshop at Treetop Yoga. She immediately wrote back, “YES.” It’s booked for a Sunday in May. Holy. Shit.
The next day, my breast cancer survivor, and joy-filled friend, Lucinda went to the 3 hour appointment with me. The lump wasn’t a lump at all. It was muscular. Thank you, Jesus.
I went home and took a three hour nap. I cooked dinner while Sam played cars and Mike and I laughed and chatted. And then I got back to work on my talk.
Sportscaster Stuart Scott passed away on January 4, 2015. On January 4, 2016, I was in the worst part of my cancer treatment complications. I could no longer see light at the end of my tunnel. It was right before I was hospitalized for a week. I remember laying on the couch while Mike changed my sweat soaked sheets in our room, and the TV was on ESPN. For the one year anniversary of his death, ESPN showed a clip of a speech that Stuart had given while accepting an ESPY Perseverance award. His words hit me like a ton of bricks then, and they still bring chills to my bones now. He said, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by HOW you live, WHY you live and in the MANNER in which you live.” I saw his speech again last night for the first time since January 4, 2016. It popped up in my Facebook feed right before I went to bed.
Who the fuck am I? I’m a voice that speaks the truth and I’m a human being who lives an authentic life because that’s what makes ME happy and content. I’m not perfect; perfect is boring. My friend Andy Lee says, “If people are talking about you, then you’re doing something right.” That’s not to mean we are supposed to be arrogant and pompous pricks. To him, it means we have to take risks… even if we publicly fail. It means that life isn’t meant to quietly pass us by. We’re not JUST supposed to blend in with each other. We ALL have gifts that are deep within us and our time here is meant to be LIVED by sharing those gifts with others. I’m broken, made whole again, broken, complicated, simple, funny, sometimes difficult (especially when I micromanage everything), sarcastic, overly sensitive, exhausted, and caring. I am strong. I have opened myself up to The Universe for the greater good in hopes that opportunities will present themselves so that I can live a life beyond my wildest dreams. That 2 hour public speaking course for the yoga teacher trainees was an awakening and a stepping stone for something more. And this is all happening now; in real time. I trust that I am exactly where I need to be; right where I am.