How do you respond when you are asked to speak for one of the most prestigious speaking events on the planet? You say yes. That’s what you do. Then you start preparing for TEDWomen2018. You write, rewrite, and write again until you have a script that says in 12 minutes what you and your son took 202 pages to say in a book.
You fact check, just to be sure, and edit one more time before starting to memorize. You spend every waking moment working on your script, because some things can’t be fixed in post-production.
You fret over what you are going to wear and over the rehearsal that went great this morning but really shitty this afternoon. Then you look into the theater where you will speak. And if you’re a seasoned speaker, your heart drops a little, because you are afraid it is not a speaker-friendly room. Creating energy in the space will be a challenge.
But you forget about that pretty quickly as you start meeting people. The first are your fellow speakers who have arrived early for rehearsals. You have meals together and are a bit star-struck. You get to know the TED staff a little better, and you’re thinking they were all Fulbright Scholars by the age of 12. And now you are utterly and completely intimidated by all the brilliant women in the room.
You go to bed the first night thinking, “There must have been another Paula Stone Williams they intended to invite. You know, the one who got a 1600 on her SATs and went to an Ivy League university before she discovered the cure for the common cold. Surely they invited the wrong Paula.”
The next day you meet the rest of the speakers and now you are doubly sure there must have been some curious mistake that brought you here. Because you are in a room with a person who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and with the theoretical physicist whose first ever observations of cesium atoms demonstrated a connection between chaos theory and quantum entanglement. Then there is the civil rights activist who founded the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez. And the woman who…well…you get the idea. By noon of the second rehearsal day you’re quite sure you just need to pack up and go home.
But you realize these people are as interested in talking with you as you are in talking with them, and it starts to occur to you that maybe there is a reason you are here among these amazing people whose bios have some kind of “Top 100 in the World” honor on them. You still don’t know exactly why you have been included, but you accept it as a reality, which gives you the ability to turn your attention away from your ego needs and toward the things that matter.
You realize the majority of these women are unique, in that they have great confidence coupled with great humility; a lot of ego strength without much ego need. You remember you spent most of your life with powerful white men, who when they came together, started positioning themselves for power. But that is not happening in Palm Springs. Everyone is in this together. The group is collaborative, not competitive. These women work from a sense of abundance, not scarcity.
By the end of the second day you are thinking, “Oh my goodness, these people are going to change the world. They are changing the world! There is hope! These women are holding it in their hands! And, oh wait, I’m one of them!”
As for the actual TED talk, I guess Jonathan and I did all right. I can’t speak for Jonathan, but I was not at my best. We both asked a lot of ourselves and I was a little disappointed with what I delivered, though the attendees were wonderfully responsive.
It is a complicated thing to do a TED talk with your son, and have the talk focused on the pain you brought into his life and the lives of the rest of your family. It is hard to practice, over and over, the words that express the pain, grief and loss everyone experienced. It is hard to lay it all out there in front of the women in the theater and women from all over the world who are watching the simulcast.
I came home Friday night, spent Saturday speaking on a TEDxMileHigh panel in Denver, followed by evening services at Left Hand Church, and then went home to watch the raw speaker’s cut of the video. (And before you ask, sorry, I can’t share that video, and no, I do not know when the edited version will be available.)
Saturday morning and again Sunday afternoon I kinda fell apart. But I am the luckiest woman in the world because I have friends who hold space for me when I fall apart, and let me cry on their shoulder and speak the words only those who love well can speak. And then it’s Monday and you are back at work again, and it all feels like a dream.
So that’s what I did since my last blog post. I spoke for TED and I came home and fell apart and was loved by people who are not much bothered by me falling apart.
Come to think of it, being loved well by those friends might have been the most important thing that happened all week. Thank you Briar and Jen and Mara and Nicole and Jason and Cathy and the other person who knows who she is who loved me so well in the midst of her own great pain. You are all the reason this authentic journey is full of such joy.