Last year I reached out to Annie McLaughlin, Engagement Manager at the JED Foundation. JED is a national nonprofit based in New York City that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for teens and young adults in the United States.
“We’re partnering with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention programs and systems.”
I wanted to connect with the foundation because of our shared interest and desire to support youth, especially through the often difficult transitional years.
After several emails we agreed to stay in touch and possibly work together in support of youth suicide prevention in the coming months.
Recently, I received an email from Annie, along with an invitation to participate in a Moth /JED Foundation storytelling workshop in New York. The concept behind the workshops led by a trained Moth instructor is that you learn ways to access and share your experiences and then present your story to an audience in five minutes. Your narrative follows a simple path: the first line of your story. A middle piece, which is the essence of your story and then a closing line that deftly ties a ribbon around your truths.
Once we gathered in New York we would split up into smaller workshop groups and then work on our stories within the safe space of others with emotional health related experiences, addictions and suicide loss.
Then with our storytelling wings firmly in place we would present in front of friends, family, JED and Moth staff on the final day of our two-day workshop. Each storyteller would be filmed. On paper It seemed like a straightforward path to share our very personal realities. It was anything but….
Our group of twelve -soon to be storytellers assembled at a meeting/audition space near Times Square. Our stories juxtaposed by opera/ballet and musical theatre auditions. On day one we were introduced to our JED Hosts and Moth instructors. Then we began the process of drilling down to the core of our stories. For me it was about teasing out threads of my loss that I had overlooked in the years since my son’s suicide.
On the first day when we began sharing I shot my hand straight up in the air. I volunteered to go first. Standing at the front of the room I began. On the worst day of my life…. midway through I stumbled. So much time had passed since that day I was losing my ability to be present with the pieces of my story. I continued…Time heals. Grief remembers. When I was done my fellow story tellers offered their thoughtful observations which I greatly appreciated. Having an exterior view into my inner thoughts was an opportunity to grow.
Our Moth instructor, Bonnie suggested I find more threads. I was only at three minutes. The rest of my group workshopped their stories. We talked and cried often. We laughed and ate lunch together. We got a glimpse into each other’s lives beyond our life changing experiences. We were forming deeply personal bonds in a matter of hours. This sacred space holding our truths. Our very painful truths.
On day two we met as a larger group for some housekeeping. Our amazing JED Foundation hosts suggested that we enjoy a good lunch because we wouldn’t have a chance to eat until after the presentations later that evening. There was a palpable, nervous energy in the room. Each hour our solidarity grew.
Breaking up into our smaller work groups we began the task of listening to each other and fine tuning our thoughts to share in a five-minute presentation.
By lunchtime we were spent. By three pm we were all back as a group of twelve. The moment was approaching. One at a time we got up and shared our story. This would be the first time that we would hear many of the stories from fellow storytellers. More pain. More courage. More love for these new friends.
Leaving the safety of the meeting room I walked with my friend Mike to the venue where each of us would have an opportunity to let our personal experiences unfold. On one side of the room invited guests sat eager to hear our stories. On the other side the story tellers sat. Some fidgeting, some turning to see family while others gazed ahead. We had spent two full days living in each other’s world. Empathizing with one another. Patiently walking with one another on our difficult journeys.
Our Moth training allowed us to finely craft our experiences and share them in a way that I had never been able to.
Each story teller held the crowd’s full attention. There were of course more tears shed, but this time in honour of loved ones and what we managed to accomplish. After everyone spoke John McPhee, Director and CEO of the Jed Foundation spoke on behalf of JED, it’s mission and the importance of sharing lived experiences.
As newly minted JED ambassadors our stories through video and live events would go out into the world in support of emotional health of teens and young adults.
The JED/Moth Workshop was not as straightforward as I had anticipated. Nor was the process of speaking our truths a simple act.
But I can say that each of us came away from our two-day training workshop with full hearts for the friendships we’d made and for the gift of time that allowed us to be present with each other. We were now part of a community of JED storytellers, speaking out about emotional health and suicide prevention on a larger stage. Through sharing our most difficult life events we will make a difference for another human being. We will ‘be the change that we wish to see in the world.’
I have one word #Gratitude