Four years ago, I had to opportunity to attend a conference sponsored by the National Funeral Director’s Association (NFDA). The program, called “Meet the Mentors,” brought together 50 young funeral service professionals and 3 seasoned mentors in an interactive setting which fostered rich conversation.
I was one of the youngest attendees by a long shot, and was admittedly a tad bit anxious. My nerves were set at ease, however, when I arrived at the hotel and met a new friend almost immediately in an elevator. We both chuckled at the absurdity of the thing we call “a mortician conference,” and that all of our outfits involved something black.
The elevator theme resurfaced at the end of the conference with a final charge to our group: to develop a 1-minute “elevator story” as to why we were working in the field of funeral service.
My eyes were wide with the refreshed perspective downtime brings, and my gut response to the challenge was to dive head-first into the core of the topic. My thoughts ran deep; here is a note from my journal:
“As witnesses to awful and beautiful things, sometimes within the same family or funeral service or body, we are linked to life-changing moments as part of our daily work. Where else, besides maybe at a birth, do complete strangers intersect at something so emotional, uncomfortable, and uncertain?”
The intensity of those notions is raw, and I often write on this blog from a similar vantage point. Looking back, I realize I connected with painful truths laced with beauty.
I returned to work after the event and my “elevator story” did not take on form until I was leaving a trade convention a few weeks later. I spotted a gentleman I recognized as I made my way to the escalator which led to the exit. With seconds to decide if I should turn around, I stepped onto the moving escalator and smiled to myself as I reached the bottom and turned right around to make the journey back to the top. The man I approached was/is the editor of a national funeral publication, and after an introductory handshake, I simply and shakily said,
“I am a writer….”
When I heard those words out-loud, they sounded strange and big and intimidating. I also, recognized, however, the power of the fear I felt. Harnessing that power is not easy work. Sitting with thoughts and forming words on pages requires vulnerability and bravery and a vast amount of hope. That short and sweet “escalator story” led to wonderful opportunities for more writing and more experiences in the “funeral world.”
Last month, I was part of another kind of “Meet the Mentors” event. This time my MBA cohort mingled with an impressive group of business leaders from the Charleston community. My “elevator story” was a little different this time around, and as I reflected on my five-year stint in the funeral world, I again zeroed in on the core of my work: writing. From thousands of obituaries to this monthly blog, I am drawn again and again to the written word as a form of expression and connection. Learning to write is a process, and I quote one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott when I say,
“this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?“
Thank you, readers, for your continued support and your own bravery in coming here to read about challenging topics. You may see some changes on this blog in the coming months as I continue to process what I am learning. I hope you will be encouraged to share more of your own story, too.