Dominique for a long time felt unsure about what she should tell as the origin of Moving Stories.
Did it just come out as an idea one day because she studied anthropology?
Did it germinate out of the speaker and storytelling events that she was organizing a few years ago?
These explanations are easy, well grounded, and passable. And she continued to give these answers for the first few years of Moving Stories because well, she has trained herself to be this strong, independent, omnipotent woman. She can’t possibly be vulnerable after all these years of playing her role so well.
I was in Michigan earlier this year for my exchange semester. With a snowstorm in my background, I had a virtual call with her. She was going through things. The nature of things doesn’t matter. We all go through things. These were her things, that she needed to sort. She laughed but not really. I almost felt as if the gloom that laid in the weather of Ann Arbor, translated through my screen onto her face. She was still giving, helping, resourceful, and yet, not entirely herself.
And then she understood what was wrong. Over 100 people in the past two and a half years have become Moving Stories. She created a space for them to be vulnerable, to open up, to allow authenticity. She saw some of them transform in front of her own eyes. This was a tried and tested method of healing oneself.
Yet, she herself was wary of using it. For many, many years, Dominique pretended. Her emotions were manufactured by her will to look strong, to not allow anyone to call her weak or defeated. It took a toll on her. It made her feel heavy.
On that virtual call from Michigan, we discussed the possibility of allowing her authentic self out. She was already working on it, she mentioned.
And then while organizing a four-day program with managers from all around the world, someone asked her about her own story. The real story. And for some reason, she was able to share it in a room full of strangers. It was unplanned and yet felt right. She allowed her truth to come out, and it uncaged her mind. There was a big applause from people who were not supposed to know. Her pretense slowly melted like a glacier and slowly flowed away. She was vulnerable and it made her feel stronger and surer than she had ever felt before.
She also officially changed the tagline of Moving Stories from
‘Start a conversation that matters.’
‘Be open, comfortable and vulnerable.’
Dominique was a bright student, with a very high IQ and several accolades to her name. But these things only matter for a child when she finds a home in her own house. Dominique didn’t. She often found herself scared, hiding, trapped.
Unlike most fathers around Dominique, hers felt different. He was a volatile man, who often chose aggression to show his feelings. Day in and day out, with or without an excuse, there were physical and psychological punishments that her father would inflict on the family. There was always a fight going on in the house, instigated by him, who blamed someone for everything. In the neighborhood, the house had been marked for his behavior. Her friends wouldn’t want to visit her because they were scared of him. Dominique often found herself hiding in her room, just to avoid another punishment. She couldn’t feel safe in her own house.
Other households looked different. There was always a sense of mutual love and admiration between children and their parents. In contrast, her father never really cared about anything she did at school. Nor did he ever give her a reason to feel proud of him.
He came every day into the house like a jailor, ready to inflict pain, punishment, and threats, one beating, humiliation or blame at a time. Her house felt more and more like a prison cell, where she was confined without her will, for no fault of hers.
She looked at her mother for support, who was a good person but couldn’t find the strength to stand up for her in front of her father. A lot of things could have turned out differently.
She could have had a happier childhood, a happier home.
There were always more questions than answers, more numbness than normalcy.
I noticed that at this point, her hands were trembling a bit. Maybe she was aware of it, maybe not. The past was just too powerful, and it was all coming back.
And so, we took a pause.
A street artist sitting under Arc De Triomphe was singing ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Bob Dylan,
An Indian man came to sell us chai for a euro each. We kindly declined.
But back when Dominique was 15, and someone asked her if it would be safer for her to leave her house, she said yes. She was tired of the constant sense of fear and unpredictability.
The government put her in a foster home. It was a weird place. Other kids were ruthless. There was not much she wanted to remember from those few months except that at a very young age, life taught her to be her own guardian.
Then she met a boy. His parents got to know of her situation and brought her home. They perhaps knew of the family. Then the boy left for the US. Things changed again in her life.
“They are family. They were very kind to me and taught me what safety was. We still meet sometimes. Me and the boy are also still friends.” she told me.
“What about your mother? Did you never feel guilty of leaving her alone?” I was curious.
“Sometimes yes. However, when I did leave, I was angry at her for not standing up for me, for herself. She was my mother. She was supposed to protect me from my fears. She just caved into whatever wrong was happening in our house. I had to choose me.”
“And did you ever talk to her again?”
“Yes. She left my father a few years later. We met then. She was ill.”
I asked her if there was anyone in her childhood she fondly remembers. She said there was a woman, her babysitter. A woman who allowed her to be herself. Who gave her that safe haven which she would often not find with her own parents.
She passed away when Dominique was 19. It was recently 10 years since her passing.
“Back then, I cried a lot. I felt as if I had lost everything. I truly felt like an orphan when she died. Recently, I realized how much time has passed since that moment. How much I have changed.”
Her first time in Barcelona saw Dominique becoming a babysitter herself for almost a year. It was a cathartic experience.
Dominique wanted to be and became an incredibly strong person. Only such a person can empower 100+ people who have been misunderstood by society. The number keeps increasing.
Her strength becomes even more apparent when you see these people, talk to them, find them smiling about things that are not easy to smile upon.
But, beyond her present, when I peek into her past, I find a person saddened and confused by life. I find a person who went through an entire spectrum of emotions as a child, as a teenager and then as a young adult. I see a teenaged girl who made brave choices when time demanded and then proved her decisions right. I see a young 20-something woman who only wanted some peace, a few answers maybe. Through her eyes I see a journey from being helpless to becoming an enabler. In the truest sense, Dominique transformed into an agent of change.
When I close my eyes, her story zeroes down to a single word.
Melancholy is often misunderstood. It is arguably the most beautiful word in the dictionary and yet generally takes a negative connotation simply because of its association with sorrow.
But melancholy is an enabler. It’s a catalyst to peace. One must let go. One must accept things as they are. It’s difficult and then it becomes easy. We are heavy and then we become light. We forgive, we forget. We float, we fly. We stop faking. We become authentic. We become ourselves.
Melancholy is not regret. It is accepting that regretting is futile. Whether it is the regret of losing something or someone or whether it is the regret of not having something that others have. It can be a happy childhood, a partner, a job, a home.
When someone finds happiness in providing others with what they couldn’t have for themselves, melancholy becomes a superpower. It can move mountains.
When the first stories on the official blog were recently published, my father commented very kindly about them. His love for me were apparent despite his broken English. Before I even noticed his comment, it was Dominique who shared a screenshot of his comments with me. She was happier than me, for me.
Perhaps this is also what enables her to see in the Moving Stories what they are beyond their labels. Labels that they receive because of what they have gone through in their lives.
“In a wheelchair”
Labels are heavy. They burden our shoulders, make us age faster, make us love ourselves and others less. They turn us into immovable mountains because of the weight we often carry all our lives.
Through Moving Stories, I have met people who carry these labels like champions, while leading exemplary, sometimes extraordinary lives. A lot of it has to come from within.
But Dominique’s contribution to their journey can’t be discounted either. She has brought them together, given them a voice, a platform, and an audience.
Everyone involved – Dominique, the Moving Stories, the participants - collectively learns to love themselves more, bit by bit. Together, with the help of one another, they change the world, one conversation at a time.
The melancholy in their hearts begins to shake the world, move the mountains.
I have often found women to be fantastical creatures. They are like great poems who bring power and peace, all at once. Dominique is no different. And so, I had to finish this by writing a poem about her. There was no other way.