The Woman Who Lost & Found Her Power

by Shellen Lubin

July 8, 2022

Story for Friday Night

There was a woman in an ancient city who was known far and wide for how smart and strong and capable she was. She was also known for how she never said no to any task, no matter how large or small, and never complained or got angry or upset. In fact, she was so good at so many things, and so agreeable about doing them quickly, efficiently, and with grace and good humor, that everyone came to her for everything they needed, and she did and did for everyone. She did for the offices of those who ran the city, and she did for all the service people that kept the city going, and she did for the elders in the community, and she did for the schoolchildren, and even for the wee babes when the new mothers couldn’t do it by themselves.

Until the day when everyone asked for help at the very same time doing very different things, and everyone declared that they needed her and only her, and all of a sudden, on that day, in that moment, she exploded. She didn’t know where it came from, but it was a real explosion. She was wailing and groaning and screaming right in the middle of the town square that she couldn’t do it anymore, and that everyone should leave her alone for the rest of her life and go take care of themselves. She yelled that last into the face of an infant, who of course could not at all take care of themself, and so everyone in the town thought she had gone mad and left her alone by herself in the town square and went about their business. No one asked how she was. No one asked if they could help. No one came near her at all. The sun set, the night grew dark and cold, and no one said anything to her at all.

She went home that night, not knowing how she was going to find the strength to face anyone the next day, or the desire to do so. She looked into the mirror and was surprised how tired and worn she looked, and she said out loud to the face in the mirror: “I have lost my power.” But the face in the mirror didn’t move as she spoke, which seemed extremely odd. And then the face in the mirror spoke back to her, which was odder still. “Go through the house,” said the face in the mirror. “Go through all the rooms, and when you find the very last room, there you will find your power.”

All of a sudden her house turned into a series of rooms, one after another after another, like railroad cars, each room with people in it, room after room with doors open to the next. The first rooms were filled with the family and community where she had been a child, and she rushed through those rooms so as not to have to interact with them at all. The next few rooms were all the people she had ever worked for, and she rushed through those as well. She had nothing to say to them. She knew her power was not there. She went through rooms of people from places where she had lived, some friendships that had ended very badly, and a few lovers that had ended badly as well. In none of these rooms did she stop, for she knew her power was not there. Then she came to a door that was closed—not locked but closed—and she knew this room was different, that this room was the last room. She did not know what she would find, but she took a deep breath and slowly turned the handle and opened the door.

When she opened the door, what she found in that room were a fascinating assortment of people. They were all the people who knew her best—not the longest, but the best. They were from different times of her life, and different areas of her life, and she had no idea if or how they even knew each other. There was an aunt, a few teachers, a librarian, some various childhood friends from different ages, a couple of past professional associates, a couple of past lovers. They all smiled to see her walk into the room, each smile unique and special and filled with the sweet and precious memories they shared with her. She could tell that their smiles were not for what she would do for them, but for who she was. She could feel how her simple presence filled them with joy, and that took her by surprise and caught her breath, but then it brought a sigh of relief to her whole body.

“This is the room I was sent to find,” she said. It wasn’t a question; she knew she had arrived at the sought-for place. “Where have you all been?”

“Here,” said her best friend from high school, the one with whom she had peeled pomegranates and dried figs, and baked chocolate chip cookies and eaten them right out of the oven, before they’d had time to harden. “We’ve always been here, waiting for you.”

“Together? You’ve always all been here together?” “Yes. For you. For you, we are all together.”

“And my power has been here all the time?” “Yes again.”

“But where?”

“Under that.” And she saw that in the center of the circle of people, in the center of the room, was a pile of broken dreams and brutal messages, ugly slivers and shards of glass and wood, slabs of concrete and steel, fragments of jobs and projects that had fallen apart or been unsatisfying, pictures of people from the other rooms and words that they had said in anger all broken into nasty pieces. ”

“Can you help me get under it to find my power?” asked the woman.

“We cannot touch it. We cannot touch you. But we can encourage you as you go—we who see you, who have known you, who have loved you. We believe in you and will keep telling you so.”

The woman started to work at lifting and removing the shards and slabs, and they were hard and heavy and sharp like knives, so heavy and sharp that they made her moan and cry with the effort and the pain. But, at the same time, the faces and voices of all her loved ones—and the energy of their love for her and their belief in her—kept her strong and focused as the pile of detritus grew smaller. And the moans and cries seemed to release something, relieve something, free something inside her. Until she got to the bottom of the pile, where she was shocked to find that the ground was empty, nothing there at all. She started to get angry, and turned on the gathered ones, “There’s nothing there! Were you tricking me? There’s nothing there at all!”

“Stop,” said her fourth grade teacher, not harshly, but firmly, with compassion. “Just stop for a second.” She was used to listening to her fourth grade teacher, who had used art and dance and cooking to teach language and math and culture—it had been her very favorite year of elementary school. She would have done anything that teacher asked. So she stopped. Then the teacher said, “How do you feel?”

She stopped for a second, to assess how she felt. “Oh,” she said. “Yes. I see. It’s different when the work is your own, isn’t it?”

Her fourth grade teacher laughed. “Very different.”

She looked around the room, slowly, really looking into the eyes and the smiles and the souls of those who saw her and loved her and believed in her. She breathed deeply and smiled.

“There you are,” said her high school best friend.

“Yes, there I am,” said the woman. And she knew that she had found her power.