In the beginning was the hearing. In the beginning there were consciousness raising groups. Over time small groups of women came together to tell each other our own stories.
Sooner or later, one woman would begin. Often the beginnings were hesitant and awkward. We were trying to put the pieces of our lives together. We were trying to find and claim shreds and shards and work the chaos into a collage with coherence.
One day a woman came to the group. She sat quietly listening and waiting. Finally she said: “I hurt … I hurt all over.” She paused and sat in silence for a moment, and one of us simply said, “Tell us what that is like for you.” She touched herself in various places as if feeling for the hurt before she added “but I don’t know where to begin to cry.” And then she began to tell us her life. She talked on and on. One story, one memory led to another memory and experience. “I remember waking up alone, hungry, no place to go – I must have been too young for school, no mama, no food. I was cold. I was always cold. It was always cold. School was cold. Too afraid to have friends, but they fed us there. They laughed at me there. They call them bullies now I think. I just remember the hurtin’ they put on me. Every day someone was puttin’ a hurting on me some kind of way. Then I met him, he said he would protect me, take care of me. He was nice – for a while. But then he started in on me. It was worse with him. He would beat me, and tie me down and have his way with me…” When she reached a point of excruciating pain no one moved. No one interrupted. Finally she finished. After a silence, she looked from one woman to another. “You heard me. You heard me all the way. You heard me all the way to here, to freedom. You heard me into my own skin. You heard me to life. ” Her eyes narrowed. She looked directly at each woman in turn and then said slowly: “I have a strange feeling you heard me before I started. You hear me to my own story.”
Our truth is found in our stories, our truth is found through our stories.
Listening to and hearing, really hearing each other is not an easy task. Those who have been abused, oppressed or discriminated against in any meaningful kind of way (and any abuse, oppression or discrimination is meaningful to the recipient of those kinds of acts), those people are often without hope and are mysteriously quiet. When change is inconceivable, there can be no words to articulate discontent. We can only hear silence in the very moment when it is breaking. And so, hearing each other is an essential responsibility, calling and task. Consider the image of hearing into speech, hearing into being. This is a kind of hearing that take place before speech is articulated; it is a hearing more acute than mere listening. Hearing into speech, hearing into being is a hearing engaged in by the whole body. It is a hearing that evokes speech, a new speech, a new creation. Hearing into speech, hearing into being dares not interrupt, but deepens when the telling halts or the pain becomes intense. Hearing into speech, hearing into being walks alongside the teller through her agony, and stays with her until it breaks from the inside and she touches her real self – all of her real self.
This story is inspired by the narratives in Nele Morton’s “The Journey is Home”