I can’t tell you where it was but I can tell you how it felt.
I had been nervous that morning prior to this panel event. But a brisk walk to burn out my nervous energy did the trick. Backstage we put on our mics and prepped for our entrance–the moderator, me, and my two fellow panelists all of whom I admire a great deal. We took our seats.
By this time I was surrealistically calm. Excited, but no longer nervous. I had asked Charles to be with me on stage that day and I could even hear him telling me jokes in my ear. The night before, several at the event were encouraging. Heather said, “You got this.” It’s not so much the words she said but the fact that she thought to offer her support–someone who, 24 hours ago, had been a complete stranger.
The moderator had asked the day before if I would end the panel by reading some of Charles’s lyrics. My heart rate stuttered. I can do this right?
I chose the song, “Forgive Me, Momma,” definitely my favorite but certainly not my easiest. While I have read it on video, I had never read it live before. And practicing it proved that it wasn’t going to be easy which made me that much more stubborn it was the right one. I couldn’t make it past the first three lines before falling apart with grief–a sputtering, snotty, messy cry. That won’t do.
So I kept at it, reading it over and over until I could at least read it sufficiently without an all-out epic emotional tsunami.
The panel that day went very well and the questions from the audience were thoughtful and engaging. We all wanted more time together at the end to explore the topic but the clock won.
The moderator gave me the segue to reading the passage Charles wrote. And prior to reading the song, I asked his forgiveness for shortening the passage for the sake of time. And let’s face it, for my own self-preservation. I don’t think I could have done the whole song. The 1.5-minute version was all my grieving momma heart could handle even seven years after Charles’s suicide.
I took a deep breath and I’m pretty sure I winced visibly prior to starting. My mind narrowed into something akin to tunnel vision in concentration. It would take all my reserves and I had to shore them all up right then. There it was, a feeling of anticipation but also support. Where was it coming from? It was the people with me and in front of me. I cannot even explain how everyone’s silence and hopes in that room buoyed me at just the right time.
My throat started to tighten around those lines which usually triggered me into an emotional breakdown, so I paused to regain my composure and the tears spilled and my voice caught but I was able to keep it steady enough for the audience to hear, all of whom had on earphones, which someone would point out later, made the experience that much more intimate. (Charles would love the headphones as he was rarely without them. A metaphor?)
Excerpt from the Song, Forgive me Momma, by Charles Aubrey Rogers. (Bolded part is the trigger for me.)
“I was so angry when you sent me away, in my own personal hell to stay.
I hated every day, put me off on layaway
cause you were terrified by the way I lived my life.
I was still your little kid inside,
the same little boy who said Momma I lost my tooth,
was the same kid saying I need bail from you, I failed you.“
When I finished, I apparently said, “I did it.” I don’t remember that part. But I do remember the relief and looking up and seeing everyone crying, including the moderator.
There is something particularly intimate and extraordinary about crying together as one, feeling the same emotion at the same time in the same space. I wouldn’t describe it as sadness really but it was so strong that for a moment, it leveled the playing field of everyone in that room. For that suspended piece of time, there was no hierarchy–we were all humans with a heart.
It’s not an experience I will ever be able to replicate nor would I ever try. However, I have savored and tucked it away in my memory bank for future retrieval when I want to remind myself of a time when I felt truly connected.