I'll say, "Tell us a story about heartbreak," and someone breaks all of our hearts with his tender memory of a long ago, lost love.
I'll ask, "What's the hardest thing you ever experienced?" And someone else bares himself raw about the joy of finding the first thing that ever mattered to him during his dysfunctional adolescence, only to have it torn away one month later.
Every week our writer's group gathers around a circular table in a church basement at Miriam's Kitchen, a caring source of nourishment for the bodies as well as the minds of thousands of DC's homeless.
Lately our writing group has been telling stories from our lives, in preparation for a performance* in which these personal monologues will be read by professional actors.
For ninety riveting minutes each week we learn about one another and, in turn, we learn about ourselves. This was unmistakable when one member of the group told me:
Writing at Miriam's Kitchen the past few years and now working on the monologues has opened up avenues of my life I never thought possible.
Sometimes the writers go home and work on their stories. Well, they don't exactly go home, because many in the group are homeless.
At Street Sense, Washington's homeless newspaper, I have come to know additional extraordinary
individuals. We meet every Wednesday to write articles for the paper. Then these writers earn a small income by going out to Washington's street corners and selling Street Sense.
Like those from Miriam's Kitchen, they open up unflinchingly with tales of horror as well as of redemption. One homeless man tells about his more than ten years in a state penitentiary before a judge reversed his sentence and set him free. There are lighter moments too, like proving at six years old that Santa isn't real.
I am deeply grateful to these storytellers for the generosity and courage it took to share their oral histories and also for enriching my life beyond measure. Though they are the ones exposing their vulnerabilities, we can all bond over our common humanity.
The monologue performance will take place on April 4th at 8 p.m. at the DCJCC's Theater J (enter from grand staircase 1529 16th Street NW). Free admission.
This production is a labor of love and would never have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of our host Theater J, as well as of the openheartedness of the actors, of our enormously creative director NJ Mitchell, and of the dedicated staff at Miriam's Kitchen.
I hope you'll share this with everyone you know in DC, so they may join us for this unforgettable performance and for a post-show reception, provided by Miriam's Kitchen.
Susan Orlins is the author of Confessions of a Worrywart