My words tumbled out in a hurried anxiety. I was young, holding a new baby in my lap, in a circle of other moms. We were a postpartum group of women who had used the same midwife and met once a month. I noticed that several of the others communicated in the same way. It was as if we were desperate to be heard, to voice the stories that had become stuck in our hearts, to free them and have them understood. They were stories about our relationships and our shortcomings, our biggest hopes and deepest fears as we navigated this hardest and most important thing we would ever do. This mothering.
It can be difficult prying those stories loose. They may come out full of anger at being ignored, or confused or afraid. They may come out in long run-on sentences. Our faces may blush and our necks splotch.
Across time and cultures, women have shared their stories as they gathered at community wells. They were their mothers’ support group, their girls’ night out.
As we have industrialized the ability to run water directly into our homes, we’ve lost that daily opportunity to see and be seen and to hear and be heard.
In many developing countries, the well as a meeting place is threatened by violence. In conflict areas, where people have been driven away from their villages into refugee camps, one of the most dangerous things a woman or girl can do is go out for water. She is vulnerable to attack as she ventures outside the camp.
It is crucial to our wellbeing – not just women, but all humans – that we have safe spaces to tell stories. Especially when they are hard to tell. Especially when no one has been willing or able to hear, really hear, them.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that we should listen in order to relieve each other’s suffering. We know how that feels, don’t we? The relief when someone has received our story without judging us, recognizing that our experience is legitimate, regardless of whether they have experienced it, too, and even when our story is tipped with anxiety, anger, or bitterness.
Community Well is a meeting place to share stories and to listen. May our suffering be relieved. May our happiness be shared. May our lives be well.
Have a story you want to tell about your experiences and/or forces that have shaped them? Email Christa at firstname.lastname@example.org.