Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells of a dream of a time she was telling a story. She felt someone tapping on her toe. Looking down she realized with surprise that she was standing on the shoulders of an old woman. She tried to encourage the woman up to stand on her shoulders so she could see and the woman reassured her that no, this was the way. Upon looking down she saw the old woman too was standing on the shoulders of an even older woman and the ladder stretched far away.
I was raised in a sect of faith that tells women that they have no stories to tell in public. Stories are for home, for children and other women. It affected me deeply because I believed them. I believed that it made God happy if I was silent. It restored creation order. So I willingly agreed to keep my stories to myself. I knew in my heart that God’s happiness was far more important than my own.
But then one day I gave birth to the most beautiful, porcelain skinned baby girl and I realized that it was no longer just about my happiness. I had a world to give her, would it be one of silence or one with a voice? Heavily I weighed these things I had been given from such a tender age.
I grasped that there was much that I was willing to sacrifice for myself, but my daughter was not, and should not be, one of those things. She was growing up in a brand new world, a world where the female voice was not only welcomed, but invited. I saw that this silence was taking far more than it was giving and slowly it occurred to me that if I did not tell my stories no one would.
I remember watching my own mother navigate the silence. It was not where she was raised. She came to the silence late in life. She too longed to make God smile. Her heart was good, but her voice was strong. It was a constant battle for her to keep silent and not tell her stories. She had a rich voice and a deep laugh. I remember being awakened in the early morning as she sat at her Smith-Corona letting her voice pour out her fingers and onto scrap paper, her frustration mounting as she tried desperately to find a story that would please the publishers so she could have a voice again. Her silence magnified her sickness. She died at the age I am now. 44. Unpublished and voiceless.
After her death, and the birth of my daughter Alinea, I began to understand that a God that silences half the population of his creation to restore some order isn’t truly the God of creation, but a sad, mean idol created in the image of men threatened desperately as they tried to find their own stories. I found that upon telling my story it restored much, which in turn made God rejoice. This was a full throated God, not threatened by truth or spirit, but one with broad shoulders and warm thick arms to wrap all the stories together.
This was a world where I could raise a daughter, this was a God who was worthy of my service and worship. You see this daughter of mine has a way with the pen, the keyboard and the language. She is the magnification all of the good that her grandmother possessed, and the entire bottled up story that fell silent so long in me. It flows through her so naturally, so beautifully. She stands on these shoulders as I stand on my mum’s. If I could I’d raise her up to stand on my hands. Raise her up as high above my head as I am able. We are my mother’s best dreams coming true.
So I write today, Mr. Miller, Donald, if I may, to ask you to help me raise her up, help me to help her by learning to tell my own story, and live my life fully and provide her with every tool possible to do that in the very best of ways.
If there was any way to get us there I’d do it. Portland was our family destination 2 years ago for a reunion and we adore it. There is just no way we can get from our coast to yours on our own. So I'm asking you to help me. I don’t even know if we’re eligible to win. If it’s residency we are out, you see we live about six blocks from the Maine border in New Brunswick, Canada. But if it’s about social security numbers and being American there is a possibility we could qualify. Either way I knew that I needed to enter to verbalize these things that are birthing in me.
I have a dear friend who makes wishes and prayers and releases them by writing them on tiny strips of paper and then tying them into knots and setting them in a safe place. She said it was a way to dream big dreams and allow yourself to ask for things you’ve always been told you shouldn’t ask for. That was a few months ago, about the same time you announced this event. With hands shaking and skepticism in my heart I wrote my very first (and only) little prayer.
“I want to go to Portland at the end of September to see Donald Miller & Aunt Peg.”
I told no one. It was my little experiment. Then I saw your contest and knew that I had to enter.
We meet regularly with some others in our community here to pray and try to figure out a way to create something locally to help people, especially children, out of the generational poverty that has eroded much of the foundation of life away from so many. We have seen that children raised in this level of poverty have no chance at hope and freedom. We have been talking about a Million Miles and the Mentoring Project as inspiration to think far outside regular nonprofit walls to begin to change the direction of the erosion; rerouting the water flow so that it works against the desolation instead of the hope.
Also, because this will be read by people who you care about and care for you, I want you to know that I am truly grateful. You have swamped the well of stories for the church and the old, ugly stories are falling away so that new, more life giving stories can be found. Your humility and ability to engage the soul changes everything and I want you to know I'm so thankful. I know you stand on the shoulders of some truly wonderful people and with your words you lift us all up.
This is my entry for the Living A Better Story Conference