January 19, 2020
This weekend was major. I remembered why I do what I do: for students, for young people, for the now and the future. “Thank you for being you.” “You made me know it’s okay to be me.” “I needed to hear this.” “Thank you for speaking hard truths.” “No one ever articulated exactly what I feel.” “I’ve never more inspired in my entire life.” “Can I hug you?!” And so it was! The responses after I talk with students always astound, touch, invigorate and humble me — and the hugs, tears and intimate Q+As are spectacular, very real and endless, to which any who have been with me at conferences, schools, panels, events, everywhere can attest! In some ways, nothing had changed, all was right in the universe, things seemed delightfully normal, yet on the other hand it felt extremely foreign, wholly unfamiliar, deeply surreal — but it happened. There is no denying that I spoke before a group of students here in Los Angeles this very weekend.
Never have I been so nervous to give a speech, nor delivered words more directly from my heart. Just minutes before, I sat with my legs shaking, eyes closed, breathing deeply, clutching the four sheets of paper that held the remarks I’d prepared for the high school and college students gathered just out of sight. I didn’t believe I would even make it that far, considering the fact that I’ve been undergoing intense recovery for over four months since my accident, largely unable to speak or verbalize coherently, uncomfortable to see even my closest friends, and forced to clear my schedule of all work. I wasn’t ready, but I was committed — for a multitude of reasons I alone had determined, outlined, come to terms with and prioritized. Words freeflowed as I began, about the veritable miracle that I was there, that they were there, that we’re all alive and together and coexisting in this mad world… and on I went, with my slurs, lisp, stutter, words sometimes muddled together. Despite my very best attempts at enunciation, painkillers in my system, thick layers of makeup and strategically-placed hair, I was still highly self conscious about how I would come across, mostly because I didn’t want my injuries or ailments to detract from the message, the resonance, the impact either of what I was saying or the event on a whole. The organizers took great risk and showed tremendous heart in holding space for me in my current state, an invitation they extended and I accepted months before my accident.
I so earnestly wanted to show up for and stand with these students in this specific moment and forum. And when I saw the faces of teenagers, twenty-somethings and adults alike looking back at me with nods of agreement, smiles of enthusiasm, tears of understanding, bursts of applause, simple and steady eye contact, I knew that I had made the right choice — for them, primarily, but also for me. I breathed, I relaxed, I let go, I connected, I delivered. There are no photos or videos of my words, nor the interactions that followed, but those of us in the room grasped the power of that moment, as the audience took to their feet and I smiled — a real genuine expression of happiness that exposed newly-shaped, bonded, soon-to-be-recolored front teeth with my lips curving upwards in a shape that my now-less-lopsided mouth can actually make. I was proud of myself, not merely for a sustained commitment to healing and diligence throughout this ongoing medical journey, but also for persevering through the fear, anxiety and lasting neurological trauma, and most importantly for finding a way to craft words, stories and ideas into a personal narrative that proved meaningful and relevant for this group of students right here right now — informing, inspiring and igniting powerful souls and honoring all of our identities.
I felt the passion and purpose that have been the guiding lights of my life burning deep inside with new energy and gusto. I felt safe, supported (THANK YOU, SWU FAM! And thank you, all!) and of service to others, our shared missions and causes beyond my all-consuming still-precarious health. I felt a part of something that mattered in which I have a role to play with unique value alongside brilliant humans. Those beautifully and predominantly positive feelings sustained me for far longer than I ever could have hoped — though my physical self is now thoroughly spent and psychological stresses creeping back in, all of which I'm attempting to balance amid more than a bit of overwhelm. In truth, I don’t know what all of this means nor where I go from here, though such is life, especially amid the tumultuous and unexpected throws of recovery. But I do know that neurons and nerves and not-so-little parts of me are doing happy dances inside, knowing that I was able to summon, see and sense the me that was, the me that will be, or perhaps the me that is — and that soul lives to do, to serve, to speak, to show up and to stand with you, with youth, with us.