It was one of those summer days that heat ups early in the morning. I was lucky to spend the whole day in my little flower garden, weeding on my hands and knees with my transistor radio fuzzing away in the shade (stop sniggering…I bought it at a garage sale years ago and I can’t part with it..I know I’m out of touch and I SO don’t care).
The day was finished and the sun was just starting to set. As I stood there in the warm, low light admiring the roses and the angel statue my husband and kids had surprised me with for Mothers Day, my phone rang. It was bad news. A much loved friend…a real angel in our small town…had been killed in a tragic accident. Thud.
She left behind a husband and three children..an 11 year old boy and two lovely teenage daughters.
I stood there, bathed in the glow of that light, surrounded by flowers and all I could feel was that thud in my heart. Thud.
The first call I made was to my best friend…we decided that the thing to do would be to go to our little church the next morning and offer up a prayer for our friend and her family. Now…I don’t know what you believe, but I happen to find a lot of solace in thinking that I’m not alone in the universe and somebody with a lot more clout than I have is keeping an eye on things. Just sayin’.
When we showed up the next morning at church, we were surprised to walk into a packed to the rafters service. On a hot, Thursday morning. The church was filled with all of the women from daily life in our small town. The women who we had walked into the first day of kindergarten with…all holding the sweaty little hands of our children….the women we saw every day at the grocery store and in the parking lot at school….the women we saw reading Cosmo when we were sitting in a chair waiting for our hair color to process at the local salon. There were about 60 of us who all showed up spontaneously that day. We hugged, we cried at the loss of one of our own, and we made a big circle and held hands and each said something poignant about the one we lost. It was touching in a way that’s hard to describe. It was healing…but it was what happened AFTER that, that was the part that struck me as most special.
Standing outside the church at the end of the impromptu service, my friend and I looked at each other like “what now?”. We didn’t feel like being alone. As we talked about our options, a couple of other women approached and shared our sentiment. We decided to pile in our cars and trek out to the country to my dirty house. The plan was to sit on the old back porch and drink coffee. I warned them that if they were bothered by a mess to prepare to take off their glasses.
What happened when we got there is what this post is about.
We sat in a circle on that dusty old porch, filled with mismatched furniture and spiderwebs. We talked. And talked. And talked. Our lost friend was on our minds, and we talked about her. About her boundless generosity (she was a “first person to show up with a hotdish ” type of woman). We wondered about the motivation for her seemingly selfless giving, and asked each other if we REALLY knew what was going on in her harried, but perfect looking life. None of us really knew. We knew about the things on the surface…the remodeling project, the non stop running of the kids to and from sports and and music lessons….the quest for a lactose free diet and the volunteering. We saw the pictures on Facebook of her with the neighborhood girls on Bunko Night. But we didn’t know what was burning in her heart when she lay awake at night. What was on her mind? What was she thinking about when she died? We were sad to admit that we didn’t know.
I was a little bit mortified when all the coffee we were drinking resulted in many trips to the bathroom. Let me just say that the bathroom was a mess. Have I mentioned that I share my house with three teenagers, three cats, two dogs, a husband and an octogenarian? Well, I do, and it’s very rarely a pretty picture as far as a neat-and-tidy-house goes. Not to mention that at the time of this meeting, I had been on a full blown “Strike of the Matriarch”. There were dishes in the kitchen sink, and there were hairballs under the couch that had more hair in them than I currently have on my entire head. The house was a wreck. But no one seemed to notice. This was going to be a day of brutal honesty.
The women in the circle didn’t all know each other well….we were there because of a mutual friend, but it felt like we had been together forever. We laughed and cried about our loss, but then as time passed, some real truth started to emerge. We all had things going on deep inside our private lives that were hurting us and keeping us awake in the night. Things we weren’t sharing with ANYBODY. We lamented to each other with such rare honesty, I still find it amazing when I think about it. One of the women had a husband who was pushing their athletically gifted daughter so hard that she was afraid for her daughters well being and didn’t know how to talk to him (or her) about it. It was absolutely killing her. One had a college aged son who was smart, funny and handsome but had such terrible skin problems that he was hiding himself inside his room, not wanting to address his crippling feelings of embarrassment. This woman cried such heartfelt tears for her son, that we all had to get up and hug her. Another woman had had her hip replaced and simultaneously had a major back surgery and felt she wasn’t healing, and was in constant pain…not able to care for her family or do her work as an illustrator…we had both also recently lost a parent and shared those sad, raw feelings (she actually braved the hairballs and spent a good portion of the day laying on the floor doing stretches, which I commend her for…she is fearless). I admitted that I still wasn’t able to get over the fear and guilt of having a son with chronic health problems who was in remission, but who could get sick again any day, and how I struggle with spreading my time and love between my other children, my husband, my husbands 91 year old grandfather, and still perform my job…and clean the house?
After about 6 hours of this, we reluctantly parted ways. We felt better. Cleansed. (Yes, in that sea of dust and hairballs we felt cleansed. Don’t judge.) I know I felt better. I had shared. And listened. And it wasn’t the ‘normal’ having coffee kind of woman talk. This was some REAL emotion. Truth.
This was our Circle of the Porch.
A few weeks later, one of the women texted me and asked if we could have another Circle. The house was still messy, so I figured it was perfect timing. The Circle was made up of different women that day but it was just as open and honest. We all felt that it was the start of something really special. …Much better than the fake book club I had started a few years earlier. (If you want to start your own fake book club, stayed tuned. I’ll post instruction on the how and why on another day.)
My bff and I have subsequently had quite a few Circles since that first day, and we’ve solved literally ALL of our own problems and quite a few of the worlds (full disclosure: not true, we still have so many problems..and the world? Seriously.)….. I keep running into women who have heard about the Circle and ask me if they can come. The answer is, of course they can come! And in reflecting on all of this, I’ve been struck by a “Big Picture Moment”.
As women, are we so concerned with appearing to have everything under control…work, family, health, finances, immaculate houses….that we have forgotten how good the truth can feel?
Start your own Circle. Don’t clean the house (don’t even pick up), brew a pot of coffee or ice some diet coke and welcome some women into a place where they can’t say anything wrong. You will feel refreshed. You will also become a cult hero at the grocery store, because everyone will want to come to your dirty house, to the “Circle” and do the coolest new thing……tell the real truth and bask in the feeling of not being alone.