Breaking the Silence Through Art–part 2March 17, 2013
On 3/7/2013, I was invited to speak at API Chaya’s 18th Annual Candlelight Vigil.
Given time constraints, I took the talk in a slightly different direction.
And so I thought I’d share the talk I originally planned to give.
What follows is Part 2 of 2. (Click here to read Part 1.)
Thoughts for the API Chaya Vigil (Part 2)
So the film I set out to make was about the challenges Dad faced as he tried to fit back in with the family and culture he’d left behind 40 years earlier. The working title was “Worlds Apart”. And for 7 years, this was the story I was trying to tell.
But several things got in the way. Most significantly was my bearing witness to my aunts’ stories. My aunts and I weren’t particularly close. So when their stories started pouring out, all I could do was hold on. My Aunts sitting in that hut, on the same coffee farm on Mt Kilimanjaro where my dad was born and raised, were bearing their souls and sharing truth about their lives for the first time, stories they’d never even shared with each other as sisters.
All I could was sit and listen, because I LITERALLY didn’t have the words in Swahili to support them. I was just a silent person bearing witness to a lifetime of unspeakable pain and suffering.
Because of my 12 years of supporting survivors of violence and abuse, I was fortunate enough to have the tools I needed to bare witness to my Aunts’ pain without needing to minimize it or make light of it. I made the space for their stories, and just allowed their stories to be. And in that moment of vulnerability, of openness and connection, new paths were laid out before us.
On screen, we witness the transformation that takes place in my Aunts as they find the words to finally speak their truth. And the Power of their story compelled me, albeit years later, to deeply consider the hidden truths in my own life.
[In my talk, I also shared my other Aunt’s response at our family screening in Tanzania.]
But now I was stuck. I was still clinging to Dad’s story…but I couldn’t let go of my Aunts’ commandment: “Now that we’ve shared our stories with you, what are you going to do about it?”
It took me 7 years to realize the story I was meant to tell was my own–not my Dad’s. And in the process, this film was forcing me to come to terms with some deeply hidden truths–stories I’d never intended to share.
It was my plan never to tell my father about my own experiences of abuse, because ‘7 year old me’ believed that knowing this would destroy him. And I was getting by just fine, doing my own work on my own healing on my own time. But I knew, if I was going to do right by my Aunts, I had to tell my own story, and that meant bringing this secret out into the open. And so I did.
Here’s what I could not have anticipated:
1) When Dad and I finally connected, what he brought to our conversation was profound gratitude. “This film is pushing us to have conversations that can only make us stronger as a family. With all our secrets now out in the open, the path before us has led to deeper understanding and compassion.” I was so moved by his grace, and his loving support of this film.
Now freed of the lingering silence and shame I’d been carrying, I discovered how liberating it can be to move through the world from a more integrated place — where I could access to the complete narrative of my life at any moment (no longer were portions of my life sectioned off and tucked away).
2) When our story turned away from Dad and towards me, I really struggled with whether I had the right to take up space with my story. I found it hard to believe that what I thought, as a queer, mixed-race, daughter of immigrants would Matter to anyone but me.
But what I’ve learned on this 10 year journey is that our stories DO matter. Who we are — our well-being, our suffering, our triumphs — and how we live on this Earth matters. Our stories matter. And our words and actions can set forth a ripple effect that can impact the whole world.
Change comes about one story at a time.
So remember those creative rituals we identified earlier? What if we committed to practicing these rituals regularly? What if we brought to our practice a level of deliberate intention, a sense of responsibility. We need to recognize that we owe it to ourselves, and to the people in our lives, to do what we need to do to bring our best, most creative and expansive selves forward into our lives. Every day. Indulging in our creativity so we can do right by ourselves, and be of service to others.
The more risks we can take with each other…not only will these leaps of faith energize us in our work, but we will produce work that will inspire others to think more expansively about how or why they do what they do. And I promise you, this creativity and inspiration will only continue to ripple out, generating new and insightful ideas along the way.
Our movement to end violence will only be strengthened by our willingness to take these risks with one another. And when we’re able to bring all of who we are to every moment of our lives, the power of what we can collectively unleash is tremendous.