(Just a note, I ALWAYS change names to preserve anonymity, except in cases where folks want me to keep their name intact with the events.
I also ALWAYS receive permission from folks to share their story when appropriate and necessary.)
I got the letter from Mary and called her right away…I wanted to hear it directly from her… to honor her…Her story, her life, her heart that lay open there on the page, wounded and beautifully scarred. I am humbled by the courage the healing, the strength, the power of her resurrection.
Ten years ago, Mary began coaching Girls on the Run. Mary was 34 years old in 2002. The mother to a 9 year old girl, Mary was seeking, or at least she thought was seeking, an experience to share with her little girl Chloe.
Chloe was experiencing what her psychologist called “separation anxiety.” Chloe was beginning to have stomach aches…too many for a seemingly robust third grader. “The stomach aches, kept her home with me, too many days absent from school and so I thought that maybe through Girls on the Run, she might begin to feel stronger, braver, more comfortable with her peers.”
It was about 2/3 of the way through the program when the memories began to make their way into Mary’s conscious state. They were in the middle of the lesson on standing up for themselves, when they came, floating first through her brain and then into her throat. The girls were finishing up the lesson called “standing up for yourself.” Every girl had received a series of sentence fragments, that when put together would create a healthy and assertive way for a girl to stand up for herself. The girls were seated in a circle, when the talking stick came ‘round to Chloe, Mary’s 9 year old daughter.
Mary writes, “It was like I was watching my 9 year old self…but in slow motion, Chloe took the talking stick, laid it on the ground before her and then with a voice I had not yet heard from my little girl she spoke, “I feel hurt when you call me names, because I don’t deserve that. I need for you to please stop.”
Mary thought she was going to faint. It was like her brain was suddenly flooded with too much oxygen, too much wind, dust and grit. She couldn’t manage it…the memories of the abuse began…right there…on the playground of her elementary school…where her own daughter Chloe now played everyday…the memories of her father’s sexual and verbal abuse, his hands, his touch, his words reaching into parts of her, ripping her apart at the seams…words and advances that were painfully inappropriate, damaging and invasive. The name-calling, twisting and turning of it all…blaming her…she eventually shut it all away.
Mary rounded out the season with Chloe. But not to return…at least not for a while,
She realized she had too much healing work to do. “I couldn’t possibly give my full self to these girls, until I found all of me”, she writes.
Slowly, with the help of the same psychologist who was working with Chloe, Mary began to find the pieces of her brokenness, along the path of her past.
Like…The part of her she gave away at age 15… that young, beautiful and innocent part that longed to know real love…that open, vulnerable and naive part that made love to the boy she thought might save her from her own self-loathing.
The part of her that lay upon the blade of the kitchen knife…wishing with each chipping and cutting away, silver to skin, to feel something… anything…uncover the life…SOME life…beneath this flesh and bones.
The parts of her lost, during college, with too much running, exercise, starving away huge pieces of her body, wanting to somehow disappear, fade into the background.
The parts of her lost in her marriage…the cycle just repeating itself, over and over…the never-ending verbal and physical abuse, her taking it, there at the dining room table…the meal awaits, his coming in and Chloe running to her bedroom, hands over her ears, crying.
In the spring of 2012, Mary was ready to coach again. Chloe was now a freshman in college. The two of them had moved out years before and gotten their own place. Mary reached out again to Girls on the Run. But this time, she shares, “I was whole.” All the shattered little pieces of her were now stitched and glued together by the thread and mortar of all she had learned over the last 10 years…stitched and glued together by her courage, her power, her willingness to expose her fear, her vulnerability…to take it all back…all the broken pieces of her self to become one.
I certainly would have thought the story was done and wonderful and beautiful right here…but I must admit, what follows pulls all those tiny pieces, together…so beautifully.
Mary shares, “we were delivering the lesson on gratitude. The girls were running and for every lap completed, they had to fill in a word that began with each letter in the word gratitude…One of my girls stood up to share her words and when she got down to the d in gratitude, she had written “Dad.”
I took in a deep breath and realized that just like her, I was grateful, too, for my Dad. It no longer served me to harbor anger toward him. I am who I am today because of all of it…every little broken and beautiful part.”
There are times, in my own life, when I wonder, if any of this matters…the work seems to be never-ending…all the broken lives…little girls, both here in our United States and those across the big waters…little girls losing themselves to traditions, beliefs, systems, religions that literally take away parts of their beautiful girl-bodies…all this longing to be put back together…even in my own life sometimes…when will it all come together?
But I need not wonder for too long…
Chloe is in college and on most mornings…her mother, Mary, lifts high her hands to the sunrise after her morning run and rejoices…both for her once little girl, Chloe and the one she has now rediscovered inside her own body, her own heart, her own spirit..through the love that is manifest…the love that is Girls on the Run.
This blogpost goes out to all the amazing women and men who give their time, their hearts and their souls to create Girls on the Run. At this holiday season, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the gift of you. I can’t thank you enough…I believe we are creating a true shift…we are bringing compassion, tenderness and the power of the feminine to a world which desperately needs it.