Though I haven’t read the book yet, I’d been wanting to see The Help because of the glowing responses and because it had been a while since I’d seen a movie so highly recommended by people with similar tastes. So when my birthday rolled around earlier this month and my hubby said he’d use his “two free movies and a snack” tickets on me, there wasn’t any question about what we’d see.
Without giving too much away, I’ll start by saying I’d rate it a thumbs-up (I hear the book is even better, goes even more deeply into the character’s lives). Of all the poignant scenes, however, one keeps playing over and over in my mind. It was a fleeting but memorable moment when two of the main characters — black maids Aibileen and Minny — finally give into their fears and begin sharing their stories with Skeeter — the young, white aspiring writer, daughter of a plantation owner.
It is Aibileen’s beautiful, uninhibited smile that keeps flashing before me, and the words that come to me as an interpretation of that moment: freed by story.
In days leading up to her eventual divulging of her life as a maid in 1960s Mississippi, it’s obvious Aibileen is plagued by all of the usual things that hold us back — fear accompanied by feelings of vulnerability, doubt, and all of those ugly voices that tell us our stories aren’t worth telling, and that if we tell them, we’ll regret it.
But as with so many anxiety-producing situations, the thought of doing something is far worse than the actual doing of it. The anticipation of telling her stories gripped Aibileen, kept her cowering and doubtful — about her stories and their worth, as well as her own worth as a person. These were deeply ingrained patterns that were holding her captive inside herself. Any of us in her position likely would have responded similarly. Perhaps we have.
But when at last she was able to turn off those voices and rise above them and share, the newer and truer voices of welcoming spilled over the darkness and brought light and love and yes, joy to Abileen’s face and heart.
“Tell Me Your Story” read a button on the bulletin board at my second full-time newspaper job back in the early 1990s. It had been left there by the person whose beat I was replacing. She’d moved on to the cops and courts beat and I was taking over the lifestyles section she’d previously written for and edited. But in switching desks, she left behind that little gift for me, and I’ve never forgotten it. It was so simple, yet so striking in importance. I became determined to be a conduit for people telling their stories, and I’ve never looked back.
It is, after all, in the telling of our stories that our spirits are freed. And in doing so, not only do we free ourselves but we give others the permission to tell theirs and, in turn, also be freed. Easier said than done, perhaps, but once the words are uttered, once our stories are no longer sealed up inside our souls, our lives of liberation begin.
Q4U: When have you been freed by story? When have you helped others become free?