I Can Hold It

Photo by Matt Lingenfelter, Taken at The Moth

Photo by Matt Lingenfelter, Taken at The Moth Chicago


That’s me.

I was on stage at The Moth, a storytelling event that happens several times a month in Chicago. I was telling a story about mistakes, the story about how a host of people missed the right diagnosis for my daughter when she was a baby. I felt confident, telling this story. The lights on stage were so bright that I couldn’t see the crowd, and I didn’t feel anxious or wrong or awkward. I just told it, calmly, always always always hoping someone in the crowd will come to me afterward and say “your story compels me.”

Compels them to what, I’m not sure.

What surprises me about this photo is how my fists are clenched. They’re tight. I didn’t feel tight or clenched.

To step back: what makes me forever grateful is the way I am calm in tense situations. It has been a very, very long time since a crisis made me cry in the midst of it (my recent concussion notwithstanding). I have walked into operating rooms, chatting amiably with a daughter whose body is about to be opened by scalpel, and not missed a beat or a nuance. I’ve checked wounds, read labels, raced to the side of panicked daughters,  and argued with mistaken doctors, and I’ve kept an even keel. Certainly, my pulse raised, but my voice did not. I willed myself calm. I refused to increase the anxiety of my surroundings by displaying my own. I love this about me; I am thrilled to be good in a crisis, to Get Things Done, to steady my hand.

But this photo.

But my fists.

But my face, raised to the sky. Why? What was I hoping to find up there?

And my mouth, too: pursed. Was I hushing something? A sssshhhhhhh to the doctors and nurses who called me “Mom” even though I was not their mother, or a ssssssshhhhh to the baby daughter, grey and hissing a stridor in my lap. A sssshhhhh to the question, asked again: “Mom, has she been scoped?” A sssshhhh to the answer I gave — yes, they looked down her nose to her throat and saw her floppy larynx, stop asking and shoot her full of steroids, please — and a ssssshhhh to the knowledge now, all these years later, that they meant a different kind of scope, the scope that would have looked further down, into her trachea, to see that it was almost completely closed.


No need to ssssshhhh that trachea; it only had 25% of the air it should have had. It took a year to learn that.

I thought I was good at being calm and collected. Maybe I’ve always been good enough, in the moment, at keeping the internal panicked monologue quiet when it wouldn’t do any good, but here, on a stage, telling my story, I’m no good at all. Every panicked thought is gripped in my fingers, in my tense thighs, in my closed eyes. My teeth are barely able to hold it in.

am good at silence, and calm, and not betraying my feelings when they wouldn’t be productive. Now I need to get better at betrayal and noise and tumult: to loosen my fists, open my eyes, and yell.

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, with the prompt “I love these things about myself…”

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3 thoughts on “I Can Hold It

  1. WOW, I love how you did this. Such a powerful ending. I admire your calmness during all of the medical procedures – I’d probably have been a mess. Except, when it comes to our kids, I guess we do what we do, and remain calm for them. Reading at the Moth sounds powerful and amazing.

  2. Very well done, between remembering how you handled the speech, your composure through the hardest of times, and looking upon this picture with open eyes. It’s all in there, isn’t it?

  3. Calmness – such a wonderful trait to have when under pressure. I take deep breaths to try to remain calm as I juggle life with 4 kids in elementary school.

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