I am neck-deep in manuscript-writing these days. This book, my book, this thing I’ve been nurturing and holding and holding back for years (and years and years) is now making its way into the world. Much like labor, I can’t stop it now – nor do I want to.
The section I’m working on currently tells the story of a young woman whose life was violently, brutally ended.
I don’t like the story at all.
I wish it didn’t exist.
There’s no justification of it, no making sense of it.
And though I might wish to just ignore it – to dismiss it as one more piece of evidence against the text within which it’s found – that only perpetuates her harm. Which isn’t acceptable to me.
It is in telling women’s stories – even and maybe especially the most painful ones – that we invite the healing we desire and deserve.
When I calm myself down, at least for a bit, about the injustice and senselessness and violence, I can hear a different voice; I can hear hers. The one that was snuffed out. The one that was permanently silenced. The one we’ve rarely-if-ever bothered to listen to. The one that I imagine she’d speak on our behalf if only we could and would hear.
This is what I believe she’d say:
- Fear is not your birthright.
- Do not hold back – no matter the danger or risk.
- Pursue what brings you life.
I am clear that these three statements are, indeed, the wisdom she longs for all of us to embody – in honor of her sacrifice, in honor of her story, in honor of her, and most of all, in honor of the life and story that is ours.
I am clear that were we to follow these three statements as gospel, it would be our own healing and that of our world that we would enable, invite, witness, and proclaim.
And I am clear that if I were I to imagine her saying even a bit more, it would sound a little something like this:
I’m right about this! Fear is not your birthright. But courage is. Write. Speak. Say. Do. Be. Say “yes.” Say “no.” Quit. Continue. Decide. Whisper. Roar. Love.
Risk is a given. To try and mitigate it, lessen it, create a balance sheet to show you exactly what might happen if you move this way or that is not the the least bit practical nor remotely close to your destiny. Do not hold back. Let risk and danger be the signs that you are moving in the right direction. And then read the paragraph above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright.
Learn from me. Let my life (and death) offer you invaluable perspective. Cherish every moment. Pursue all that is yours, all that awaits you, all that exists within and around you, all that you desire and deserve. And then read the two paragraphs above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright and you must NOT hold back, no matter the danger or risk!
Of course we wish that stories like hers did not exist, then or now. We must rage (rightly and justifiably) against violence. And in the midst of both, we must honor the voices that can no longer speak, the stories that are rarely if ever told.
We must use our own voices and live our own stories in ways that are courageous and risky and full of life.
And when we do? Well, Jepthah’s Daughter smiles and says “Thank you.” Oh, and this:
Read the three paragraphs above over again? And then maybe a few more times?
With her wisdom as rubric, encouragement, and hope, I labor on – knowing and trusting that the imagined words of even one ancient, sacred young woman might strengthen you in the labor that is yours, in the story that is yours, in all that is yours to birth and live and heal.
May it be so.