Rewind back to Tuesday, February 28. That feels like forever ago, right? Well let me tell you a story.
I hate public speaking. I shake, mumble, forget words, and sweat. But I wasn’t performing from memory. In fact, I wasn’t even performing my own work, it was someone else’s. So I should be fine, right? Theoretically.
But what was I doing? I was performing for VDAY, which stands for a global movement to end violence against women. The performance is an MMRP (memory, monologue, rant, and prayer), kinda like the Vagina Monologues (well, not that I know, that’s what I’ve been told). The piece to be performed was a bunch of passages compiled together on the topic of women and violence, written by individuals who identify as women.
Image credit: Charles Peebles, Flickr CC
I had every reason to help out, to use my voice. But that didn’t make it any less difficult. On the day that I saw the script, I firmly declined reading a passage. A week later, I caved and chose the shortest one I could find. Suddenly it was ten minutes before the performance.
My heartbeat was erratic as I twisted the piece of paper between my fingers. I had to keep reminding myself that this event was important, that no one would judge me if I skipped a few words or got tongue-tied or choked. I just needed to keep breathing. Inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Just one breath. Repeat. 4-7-8. My heartbeat slowed.
Dozens of thoughts flew through my head at once. It isn’t too late to back out. Maybe it will be fine. I made a commitment I have to follow through. I can’t do this. I’m going to choke. I can’t let them down. Spoiler alert: I did it. And I’m glad I did.
What was the purpose of reading someone else’s words? How could I give meaning to a situation, a life, that I have never known? How could I possibly fill this strangers shoes, their voice, their experience? Short answer, I can’t. But that’s not the point.
The point is to share these women’s stories, their experiences, to increase awareness about violence and injustice.
It wasn’t until I heard my friends performing their passages that I realized why this was so important. Some passages were funny, some somber, but the effect was the same. The whole audience felt connected, to these stories, to their identities, to the everyone else sitting in that room. In that moment we shared the pain and the laughter. And in that solidarity there is strength.
The most important thing we can do, for our friends and family, is to be activists.
Image credit: James Pearce, Flickr CC
When I think back on this performance, I think of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said that “in the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Now why is that relevant? Because silence is acceptance. Silence can mean violence for a loved one. How could we bear to stay silent, to refuse to tell these stories, when it could mean the suffering of someone else?!
I feel foolish about my earlier worries, as if my minor discomfort could possibly account to the discomfort that people experience from violence and injustice. Talk about a first world problem. If there is one thing that I want you to take away from this post, take this: it is imperative that we speak out.
You have two options from here. Use your voice, and let yourself be uncomfortable. Or you can be a coward, and stay silent. It’s your choice.
Featured image credit: V-Day, CC