We bonded during the last hour of the day. A panelist at the close of the first-ever conference for midlife bloggers asked the audience of 100 women if any of us found certain types of stories that resonated with their readers. I raised my hand. But, Cathy Chester, who writes about having Multiple Sclerosis, raised hers first. When it was my turn, I shared that in my seven years online, I believed I’ve always blogged authentically. But, when my daughter turned 16 and began approaching the perilous precipice of ending services that young adults with disAbilities reach (and fall off of) at age 22, I became angry. And I wrote about it. And it hit some nerves with other parents on the journey. I shared how my “Pining for an Empty Nest” blog post and reading for our local Listen to Your Mother performance stretched me to share my struggle and the resulting sense of resonance (and understanding) it brought.
Following me, my new-found friend, Alicia Searcy, a fashion blogger who has cerebral palsy, shared some of her journey. (She’s fashionable from her fuchsia-streaked hair to her leopard-print booties. Her blog title is a little insider slice of disAblity humor: “Spashionista.com.” About three more people followed us, and two of them shared about their online journeys with breast cancer. One of them, Claudia Schmidt, owns another fab titled blog: My Left Breast. As these clever blog names indicate, these women have learned to make lemonade.
When the conference disbanded, I asked Alicia if she noticed that the first three of us who spoke were all living with disAbility. Yes, she’d noticed. She is a wise woman. Without pausing, she added to the wisdom she’d already gifted me from earlier in the day: “It’s because we’ve not been able to run from life, Leisa.” She looked me in the eye and added. “The rest of the people here probably have kinda been able to skirt it. A little. But we cannot.” She gestured to her own visible disAbility. I thought of my daughter and how her obvious hyperactivity and lack of social inhibition and inability to carry on a conversation red flags her, as well.
To be human is to face challenge. By no means am I saying that the challenges my daughter’s autism presents me is any greater, more important, etc., than any other individual who lives with disAbility or not. We all dwell in our individual universes of experience. The takeaway for me was that each of us, plus the two women who wrote about breast cancer, found a sense of resonance in sharing from the tender spaces in our lives.
That authenticity, that vulnerability, I think, resonates not only with people experiencing the same struggle, (autism, other disAbilities, cancer,) it echoes within the soft, aching, quiet places within us all. The parts that we may be too scared to share with others or think that we are the only ones who feel that way. I’ve said for more than a decade now since I’ve been chronicling my journey with autism here and my continued attempts to compile a morphing theme of my life lessons from Grace into another book, that grief is universal. It may be called something different in your life than mine. But few, if any of us, dodge it forever.
Participating in Nashville’s inaugural Listen to Your Mother was a lesson in the power of story. In stepping forward to a microphone; a computer with an index finger poised over the send button, or quietly sharing with another human being. We need each others’ stories. It’s what makes us human and what makes our humanity bearable. It is our connection.
The BAM: Bloggers at Midlife Conference, and the sponsoring online Midlife Boulevard are a powerful channel of connection. Midlife women, many if not most of us Baby Boomers, have a voice about life after 40 and 50 and into our 60s. And I’m sure we’ll be sharing our voices beyond that number. Because that’s just it. It’s not about numbers. And we refuse to be dismissed because Madison Avenue and Hollywood attempts to dictate where on the chronological scale of life matters. We are real women who have been through the trenches of parenting, marriages, divorces, early widowhood, disAbility, cancers, careers, etc. And we’ve got stories to share with you.