Thursday, 6 November 2014

celia's story

I'm lucky enough to have met some pretty amazing people in my time.

And I've been lucky enough to record some of the conversations I've had with them.  

Often those conversations have been fascinating. Because they're with amazing people who are passionate about what they've achieved in their lives.                               

Among the podcasts out there already you'll hear the voices of an astronaut, a peace-negotiator, a North Pole explorer and a professor of neuroscience. 

Incredible people. With incredible jobs.

Actually I never did release the neuroscientist conversation. To be honest it wasn't up to scratch. 

But I did meet her. 

And she was amazing. It's just that our conversation wasn't.

And that's kind of my point.

Even when the people I talk to have achieved amazing things, it's not their job or their achievements that make the conversation worth sharing.

It's their capacity to give themselves to the conversation that makes it compelling. Or not.

It's when the quality of the listening in the room begins to affect the quality of the thinking. 

And it's when the job becomes not so much about telling the story but sharing it. 

Right there. Right then.

And it's when two strangers sitting across a table begin to feel like they're mutually colluding minds rather than separately and politely exchanging opinions.

It's when it feels like you're both really participating in that conversation. 

Both initiating. Both taking part. Both hunting down. Both revealing and revising.

So, I confess to being a little confused by my role in the last conversation I recorded and which, after a long, long editing process, you can now hear... 

Here on iTunes or right at the bottom of this blog.

It's called: Celia's Story. 

And in one sense it is just that, and only that. A story told.

Not told though to just anyone. Told to me. 

And - at the time of hearing it - it really felt that way.

But I'm confused because I think I might have experienced something quite rare for me. 

During my conversation with Celia, I was hearing things first-hand that perhaps somewhere in my subconscious I had tacitly assumed I would never hear. 

I felt, I suppose, something very close to shock as I listened.

Because Celia's Story is (at first) a story of cruelty. 

Of a cowardly father and (in Celia's words) a mother from hell. And as it goes on, it becomes a story of a desperately twisted adult relationship and an agonising sense of a frightened individual caught in the headlights of fear and locked in a desperate situation, partly and unbearably of her own making, in that she didn't think she deserved to say no.

It's a story that may well make you angry as you listen to it. 

You may even find it barely credible.

But if you stay with it. You'll hear too that it's also a story of human triumph.

(And how.)

Celia's story is one of hope, courage, love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. 

It's a story of good things out-living bad ones.

And as I listened to Celia, as I absorbed her story for the first time, I realised that I was feeling nothing like I often do in a conversation. 

None of my skills seemed important. 

None of my experience felt useful.

And none of my words felt adequate.

So, I found myself, just... listening. 

And here's why I'm confused. 

Because (and perhaps when you listen to it - if you listen to it - you might hear like I do now that) this is not really a dialogue

I mean, in the sense that it's pretty much a one-way conversation. (The type I would usually say does not a dialogue make.)

I really don't do very much in it. 

I'm really not being falsely modest. I admit to asking a few good questions, to checking that I'd understood, to probing a little bit here and there. 

But essentially, I just showed up. And stayed with it. 

And of course sometimes that's all it takes. And this conversation has reminded me of that.  

It's a conversation that's left me with lots of questions. I'll write a separate post soon about what those questions are for me. (And I'd love to know what those questions are for you.)

For now, I want to offer you simply the experience of listening to someone whose courage and sense of self-preservation I am utterly in awe of and totally delighted to have met.

I've tried to do our conversation justice in the edit. Which means it's not a short one. (The extended form seems to be where my conversations are going these days.)

Perhaps you'll find though - as I did - that after a few minutes, the clock on the wall stops ticking. 

And you start instead to find time and space for a woman who not only has one of the most gorgeous accents you're ever likely to enjoy hearing, but who has somehow managed to conquer a life's journey scarred by hurt, neglect and abuse with an abundance of smiles, laughter and a one size fits all hug.

Celia - you are truly one amazing person. 

It was a privilege meeting you and it's been a privilege listening to you over and over again as I've edited our conversation in order to share it. 

Thanks for letting it be heard. I hope many people find Celia's story as inspiring as I do.

(Quick update here: Celia's Story has become the most listened to episode of any I've published in just the first two weeks of its life. Extraordinary.) 

And to Colin - who put us in touch, who hosted our conversation and made the tea, who even provided the photograph that feels like it might have come from the little hide-away that Celia describes - my heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

"It's good... to be heard."

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