It was early Spring, 2020 and things had come to a screeching halt as we went into lockdown due to the global pandemic. Looking back, that was probably the compelling reason that a group of mostly strangers agreed to participate in a bi-weekly Zoom Book Club. We surely had the time, and frankly we needed something stimulating to distract us. The hook was set when we learned that first up was Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Most of us had recently read Untamed and it’s one of those books that make you want to jump up, dash out and go make changes in the world. So we had energy, we had ideas — and we were quarantined. A lively discussion about this book was an invitation we could not refuse.
If not for the quarantine, it is quite doubtful that our dynamic little group would have ever come together in the first place. We would have all been busy with life as usual. We might have had a few conversations about snippets of revelations we had, but it is unlikely that we would have been able to keep it going more than a month or so.
Little did we realize the seeds of friendship that were planted on those first few Zoom sessions. We had no way of knowing what the universe had in store for us — a group of mostly strangers from different states.
We had a pastor, educators, leadership coaches, retired bankers and a chair of her local political party. We were daughters, mothers and grandmothers. We were married, divorced, widowed or single — or had been all of these at one time or another. We were diverse in our ages, experiences and interests.
The common denominator was evident during our very first Zoom session. It was our mixed bag of strong emotions in an unprecedented time of great uncertainty. We were all scared for ourselves, our families, and the world at large. Those seeds of friendship began to sprout as we revealed the concerns that were most relevant to each of us. We got a glimpse of each other’s vulnerability. Looking back, I am aware that there was no judging present as we got to know each because we found the common thread instinctively pulling us together — to share and to listen with grace, open hearts and open minds.
As the months of quarantine continued, so did the Beautiful Cheetahs zoom book club. It was the one bright spot that we all looked forward to every other Thursday evening. Before we would dive into discussing the book chapters, we would update each other on how we were coping, what was unfolding in our lives and families. Sometimes we would vent about the toxic news cycle. We’d share diverse opinions and a wide array of resources to expand our knowledge and understanding. These conversations were sorely needed and much appreciated. It was a chance to offload some stress, a place to ask compelling questions and hear varied perspectives. It was a glimpse into how each and every one of us and our families were being impacted by the turmoil in our country and around the globe.
It was a revelational microcosm of what was transpiring collectively in our country. There is no doubt that we benefited from hearing each other’s stories. It reinforced our common humanity and our human frailty not to mention the importance of connection. We saw job loss, virtual school, social isolation, business disruption, births and deaths through the eyes and hearts of each other.
And all of this happened before we had even opened our copies of Untamed to discuss the assigned chapters!
So let’s zoom out to take a look at what took place when we did turn our attention to the book. At first blush it would seem that none of us had come anywhere near the metamorphosis that Glennon Doyle has in her 40+ years. She has gone through many transformations to get to her true self. She is refreshingly candid about how hard that has been and she offers wisdom that can only come from deep introspection. We were eager to rally around her book and collectively motivate each other to unleash our own inner cheetah.
Untamed became both a framework and a bridge for us. We all confessed that we loved the book, saw ourselves in chapters of it and were inspired for some metamorphosis of our own. The timing was so right. Even though it seemed the world was standing still, change was occurring all around us — a telling metaphor for our own reflecting. The more we discussed the book, the more we realized that even though it appeared on the surface that we had been standing still in our own lives, changes had been occurring all along.
We would dive into a chapter, reading aloud a sentence or two that resonated deeply — and that would be the catalyst for one of us to share a personal vignette from their own life story. Thank goodness for Zoom, because we could see the facial expressions, the body language that enriches a story. If you pay close attention, you can not only feel the story as it once happened, but can even see the indelible imprint it left on your friend.
While I don’t remember the details of the very first deeply personal story that was shared, I do recall that in that moment there was an unspoken understanding that this was a safe and sacred place for each of us. And so it began — organically — a group of women holding space for each other to tell their most vulnerable stories without holding back. As is often the case, our experiences or circumstances may be remarkably different, but the context is the common ground. We could so easily put ourselves in one another’s shoes.
Having these deep conversations was cathartic. Free at last from stories buried so deep within us that we had even forgotten some. Stories that needed to come out just like a splinter so that healing could begin. Stories that we did not realize were our very own “cheetah” moments – not til one of us piped up with a fresh perspective and an “atta girl”. We cried, we laughed, we shook our heads in disbelief and we air toasted our bravery.
Those initial seeds of friendship grew exponentially over this past year. We often reach out to each other independently of Zoom sessions through email and texts and best of all phone calls. Some who were friends before Beautiful Cheetahs have really deepened their friendships. Some of us have gained incredible new friends we would have otherwise never even met. We have helped each other through very specific challenges in supportive ways that came from our own personal experiences.
We offer each other a unique space to explore new ideas or approaches. It’s fun — it feels like going on a shopping trip with friends that bring things to the dressing room that you would never pull off the rack. We help each other with fresh perspectives and reframing. We eagerly say “hey, you can try something new!” We celebrate breakthroughs and wobbly first steps in the right direction.
Over this past year, we have had the privilege of getting to know our friend Sally’s beloved mother Isabelle, through colorful stories and delightful anecdotes. Our hearts were always warmed by the lifelong devotion of our friend and her mother. While we were all busy trying to get better at being authentic ourselves, 95 year old Isabelle showed us what life looks like when you embrace your true self and live every moment in joy and gratitude.
Diane, the ever gracious pastor in our group officiated at Isabelle’s funeral just last week. AnnaRuth, Barbara, and Linda were able to attend the service in person. I participated virtually as did some of Isabelle’s family members who live in New Zealand. Thank goodness for technology and how it can bring us all together for moments like this. Isabelle’s “going home” celebration was the most touching memorial I have ever witnessed. The colorful memories that family members shared about Isabelle were a testament to a woman who seized the joy of every present moment. Listening to Sally tenderly weave the rich stories of Isabelle’s life, especially as she neared the end was incredibly beautiful. Being able to see and hear Sally’s son and daughter share their memories of their beloved grandmother was heartwarming.
After a year of quarantine and zoom meetings, my friends who were able to be physically present for this lovely service were overcome with emotion at being able to actually see each other. We’ve grown so close, but from a distance. The gift of being together was not lost on them. I was sitting alone 2,000+ miles away, having just closed my laptop, reflecting on that beautiful service when my phone rang. It was AnnaRuth. I was so touched that she would call me as soon as she got to her car. Now I was overcome with emotion, a warm wash of that feeling of true belonging. I confided in AnnaRuth that her thoughtfulness in calling me immediately felt like I was being pulled into a hug. As we shared highlights from the service that went to our hearts, we also marveled at the deep personal bonds we have made with each other — because of a Zoom book club.
To say we have witnessed remarkable personal transformation would be an understatement. While it is true that each of us independently has experienced so many growth spurts over this past year, it is the collective bond of deep friendship that is so rare. We went into a lockdown and Zoom book club as mostly strangers and a heart full of untold stories. We are emerging a year later with six trust buddies who love deep conversations and who support each other on this journey to be the best versions of ourselves. That is a truly miraculous metamorphosis.
These Beautiful Cheetahs tip our hat to you, Glennon Doyle.
P.S. Did I mention that we are only half-way thru Untamed a year later?