The title of this story is deceiving. AND, so was the similarly titled workshop I attended as a college student in 1996. I was desperately looking to shed baggage, pain, and the urge to be anything other than “A Strong Black Woman.” Thanks to Emelia “Me-Me” Cowans-Taylor’s one-woman performance in “Forever,” by New York playwright Dael Orlandersmith, I know that I am not alone in this journey.
Most medical professionals, who I’ve seen, say you never fully “let go of trauma.” In fact, a friend recently gifted me with a book that describes and prescribes how we carry it in our bodies. A few recent experiences started me down this “rabbit hole” thinking that maybe healing is more like Chapter 12, “The Wisdom of Clean Pain,” from the New York Times bestseller, “My Grandmother’s Hands.”
The tool-kit style racial healing book says, “Healing trauma involves recognizing, accepting, and moving through pain – clean pain. It often means facing what you don’t want to face – what you have been reflexively avoiding or fleeing.”
I am still processing this idea of “clean pain.” The concept became important in timing as I watched my friend, Emelia, starring in that one-woman show as part of Burning Coal Theatre’s 24th “Conversations I Always Wanted to Have” series. Emelia stars, ever so brightly, in “Forever,” a semi-autobiographical story about Orlandersmith. She and Byron Jennings are performing two live shows, running in repertory, both written by Orlandersmith, wrapping Valentine’s weekend. “Forever” depicts a rocky relationship with Dael’s mother, growing up in East Harlem, and how circumstances beyond her control caused her to embrace the arts in order to survive the abuse she endured.
When I asked Me-Me about working through the show (that she performs live SIX times), she shared her journey through trauma. She also adds that the process for this show included a theater therapist and an intimacy acting coach who specializes in trauma. An offering from her friends at Burning Coal Theatre.
“I am a sexual assault survivor; I was date raped in college…It can be triggering and bring me back to the moment.” By this weekend, she will have performed the show live six times. Part of her practice includes a blackout in the middle of the performance. Me-Me takes a moment during that time for self-care.
“I smell the perfume on my wrist, drink some water. I feel the table while Billie Holiday sings in the background to ground me. I let the stage crew know I am ready to proceed by merely tapping the table. I stomp my foot lightly. I am giving control when I’m ready to move forward… and then they bring up the lights.”
Watching the show was triggering yet there is something comforting about the idea of Me-Me bringing up the lights during this one-woman show. She spoke of those suffering in silence as “strong Black women.”
Me-Me has had several discussions about the title…FOREVER. “I connected with the story. I felt that no matter what you try to do to reinvent yourself you’re never going to escape your childhood,” she offered. “That doesn’t mean that has to dictate the continuation of generations of trauma.”
Watching was difficult but it brought me back to “My Grandmother’s Hands.”
Resmaa Menakem writes, “By walking into that pain, experiencing it fully, and moving through it, you metabolize it and put it into it. In the process, you also grow, create more room in the nervous system for flow and coherence and build your capacity for further growth.”
I realized that I was looking for a magical way to forget, unlearn, unsee pain.
Conversations with trusted friends have taught me that you can’t outrun grief, pain, or trauma. But you CAN find healing.
Get your tickets here: https://burningcoal.secure.force.com/ticket/#/events/a0S3u000006ULN3EAO