Last night, I had the privilege of attending a performance of the one-woman show Checkered Floors, written and performed by Cheryl Hamilton. The performance is based on her life experience and braids together three great challenges – the suicide of a person she was trying to keep from jumping, the influx of Somali refugees into her small Maine town, and her rape by a local man in her town. The story is complicated, as are all of our lives, but Cheryl weaves these stories together into a simply vivid just not simple story of her walk through life’s fires and her emergence on the other side, flames still nipping at her heels.
Sometimes, when I decide to read a memoir about someone’s tragedy or to see a play about a horrifying experience or watch a documentary about the degradation of humanity, I am weary before I begin, too worn down by the pain of the world to bear credible witness to any more. So when I went to dinner with Cheryl last night, knowing that I would be coming to her show later that evening, I expected to be bowled over with sorrow, to be left gasping at her pain, and thus, left without any way to take action – I feared that I would be given one more cause, one more concern about which I could do nothing. This is not to say that the play’s materials or Cheryl’s persona led me to this assumption in any way; this is just simply what my deep interest in international injustices and personal tragedies has sharpened me to see. And now, after meeting Cheryl and hearing her laugh, after seeing this show, I am sad that I have become jaded this way.
This production carries all the weight of tragedy – but that’s just it, the show carries that weight; it doesn’t throw that weight on the shoulders of the audience and expect them to walk out with it. It gives us, its witnesses, insights into humanity, into individual suffering (not to mention humor and dating – I really liked the stuff on dating) that we can appreciate, absorb, and walk away with, knowing that we are stronger people than when we came in. I credit Cheryl Hamilton with this, for she is the strong one; she has come through.
So, in the end, when I left this show, I went home tingling with energy, the same energy that comes from reading great literature, from hearing great music, from watching a great movie. I wasn’t left in the doldrums, and I wasn’t falsely placated with a positivity that doesn’t ring through. Instead, I went home thinking, “Yep, there it is – life in all its grimy glory. Each day different and splendid and painful and utterly something that can be shaped into beauty – if only we try.”
If you get to see this show, don’t miss it – really! Take all your friends, go for dinner before and a glass of wine after – talk about the show, talk about your lives, just talk – bear witness to one another and then go back into your own life stronger because you know it’s possible.
Also, last night, I was honored to meet Ken Stanek, a photographer from Baltimore. His work is really striking, and I encourage you to take a look. He has these wonderful aerial views of buildings and highways; they make art out of something many of us find mundane at best, ugly at worst. Definitely stop it at his website, if you have a minute. My favorite images are those of buildings tucked behind trees or clouds from eye-level – those images we don’t usually see. Like Cheryl’s play, here, we get perspective that is new, fresh and wise with life like the first snow peas of the season.