Looking Forward

The Sojourner House Spring Reading is today!  Here's a reflection from Aspen, one of our teaching artists at the Sojourner House:

"Looking Forward"

“I haven’t written since twelfth grade,” a woman says last Thursday morning. It’s the last ten minutes of class and we are sharing our work. She sits at the corner of our oblong rectangle, dark hair pulled up in a ponytail. Every few minutes, she twists her head to the side and coughs. This is her first day joining us for creative writing at the Sojourner House.

Like many people returning to the pen, her statement serves as a pre-apology for the product of ten minutes with ink pressed to page. It’s a thin veil that implies the lies we addicts tell ourselves: I’m not good enough; My words aren’t worth hearing; I have nothing to say; I’m for wasting your time. It’s an apology I recognize because I use it too.

When she starts reading, though, it’s immediately apparent this woman is a writer; her voice rises to emphasize, pauses to linger. She keeps us perched on our chairs. We lean forward to listen.

It’s a poem about the sacrifice of birth, how she’s grateful for the scar on her stomach for it bares testimony to her sacrifice and love for her baby. It is also a poem about loss.

By the final line, her voice cracks, and a tear glistens from her eye. She lets the small piece of paper float from her hand to the table. The room erupts in accolades.  

“You gave me the chills,” the woman sitting next to her says.

“Really?” she asks, genuinely astonished. She looks back at her paper as though attempting to solve a mystery, to see something she at first did not see. “I just miss my baby,” she says.

Next Thursday is our last class for spring. And I wonder: who will keep writing? I want to believe that this tribe of writers will beat the odds. Claim redemption. And never again, have the urge to self-damage.

But that’s not my job here. I must maintain clarity between my past and present, recovering addict and teacher. As is often said in the Words Without Walls program, we aren’t claiming to save lives. I just hope these women know they don’t have to apologize for their stories; that instead, they realize the beauty of their wisdom.