Good evening everyone!
Hope everyone’s having a fabulous week! I think it’s safe to say that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my Miss Nashville career—today, I got to walk THREE adorable golden retriever puppies for a promo video for Nashville Greenways! Needless to say, it was a pretty good day.
Susan hails from Johnson City, Tennessee, and grew up dividing her time between her dad there and the San Francisco Bay Area, where she moved with her mom when she was 10. She returned to East Tennessee and majored in German, in addition to studying voice and the flute. She moved to Nashville 14 years ago, and continuing the work for equality she had begun in college with her close friend Brandon Hutchison, one of the founders of the Tennessee Equality Project, she became a founding member and the first Vice President of Nashville in Harmony. Welcoming all members of the Nashville community, NiH beautifully models the inclusion and diversity they work to create in our community and the world at large, as they live up to their mission of using music to build community and create social. She spends her days writing procedures and communications for SunTrust Bank, but dearest to her heart is being a part of the music at St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt. Her proudest accomplishment is her record, Runnin’ Against the Rain, which you can check out here!
Susan has an incredibly authentic way of capturing her own story and observations about the world, and I am so excited to be able to share them with you today!
Tell me about a time in your life when you were faced with a challenge. How did you approach it and skills or abilities enabled you to do so?
My life has been marked by significant challenges and losses. My early family life centered around my sister with special needs, who passed away when I was seven. We were then impacted by my mom’s serious depression and her struggle to find a life for herself as she came to terms with the fact that, like many women of her generation, she had made her life choices based on what she was “supposed” to do, feeling she had no choices. These struggles led her to leave us and move to California when I was nine. I stayed with my dad for a year, until he had a heart attack and could no longer take care of me. The upheaval and losses continued with the constant shuffling between my parents’ homes in Tennessee and California, the death of a cousin I adored when I was 12, my mom’s divorce from my stepdad, and my dad’s death when I was 20. As all of that was happening, both homes I lived in were somewhat volatile and chaotic as everyone struggled with their own demons.
The most powerful gift that came from so many deep losses so early in my life was an understanding and acceptance that things happen for absolutely no reason and there is just no “why” to be understood. This has saved me from spending time asking questions that have no answers, and taught me the invaluable lesson of simply getting to the business of grieving and healing when things happen. As I’ve watched friends struggle with what life throws at them, stuck in that question of why and neither grieving nor healing, I’ve discovered what a phenomenal gift it is that I have known for my whole existence that things just happen. There is unquestionably meaning to be found afterward, and I can tell you the gifts that have come from every single challenge in my life. But I think we find and create that meaning afterward, and there’s truly no “reason” we can find when something happens.
As with many gifts, though, my expert grieving skills can be a double-edged sword. I’ve always tended to employ them at the first sign that something I want may not be immediately possible—dismissing so many of my dreams before I dared to dream them. That changed when someone walked into my world one Sunday morning.
Who was that and how did they change that for you?
Singer/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones showed up to sing with us at church. He sang an Emmylou Harris song that morning, and I stood off to the side weeping through his entire performance. I had never heard a more beautiful voice, and the song he had chosen spoke so powerfully to the darkness that had haunted my mom before she took her life in 2007. As you do when random amazing artists show up at my church, I Googled him when I got home that day, and discovered that he had a song called Homage for the Suffering. I was awestruck by his understanding of the darkness and the gentle kindness with which his words met listeners there. As I heard the rest of his music, I was speechless as I found in it countless lines that illuminated and clarified my heart’s deepest wounds, broke down walls that had stood solid for years and shed light on mysteries I had never understood. Those lines sparked a journey of healing and discovery of my heart that has completely changed the way I see and experience this world. This healing and discovery has enabled me to find my voice, and to learn what love truly is for the first time in my life.
All of those gifts that completely changed my life came from nothing more than Matthew’s singing and writing and speaking, and most of all, KNOWING, his own heart and truth.
In your opinion, what’s one thing that you wish people in this day and age would do more?
I truly wish that people would discover the powerful truth that love, kindness, and peace come from knowing and loving our own hearts, and from putting ourselves FIRST. This is so counterintuitive, because we’re taught for our whole lives that it’s “selfish” to think of ourselves, and that we’re supposed to put others first. What we don’t realize, though, is that that “putting others first” ideal actually teaches us that every soul on the planet matters more than we do. This is shattering to our hearts, and leaves us with a deep hole inside us which we walk in this world looking for others to fill. Which they never, ever can. True kindness and love, which are only true when we WANT to offer them and not when we think we “should,” are only possible when our hearts are full, and that can only come from inside us.
I promise you, the most valuable gifts I’ve ever received in my life are people speaking their own truths about their own hearts. Not people doing things for me. From people doing things “for” me, I learned that I was a burden and I should feel guilty for any joy I have … Because it came at the expense of someone else. From people speaking their own truths, I have learned to go within and discover MY own truth, which has led to filling my heart from within in a way I never imagined was possible. Our entire experience of this world is created by the conversation we are having with ourselves, so it’s what’s going on inside us that determines the quality of our lives. The healing and illumination that come from a single line of Matthew’s, the writing of which had everything to do with him and not a thing to do with me, is so much more valuable in creating joy and peace in my life than everything that was ever done “for” me combined … Because it’s been able to change my conversation with myself. We really have to grasp this truth that we are so much better for the world when we take care of our own hearts first.
Tell me about a time when you knew that what you were doing was making a difference.
As I’ve been on this journey of healing and discovery the past two years, I’ve shared my story on Facebook. I’ve written every discovery and every moment of this journey in posts ranging from a few words to pages and pages. Ever since I’ve been doing this, I’ve been shocked to receive countless comments and messages, also ranging from a few words to pages and pages, from people I love, people I know slightly, and people I’ve never heard of, telling me that my words have illuminated and clarified things for them. People I had no idea were reading my ramblings have stopped me at shows and at church and at work and on the street and had long conversations with me about their own hearts, even telling me they’ve changed their conversations with their children as a result of my words. It’s stunning to me. Again, all of this comes from simply speaking my own truth and telling my own story. The truth we speak from our hearts is so much more powerful than we know.
What’s your favorite thing about Nashville? What’s one area that you believe we could grow in/change?
My favorite thing about Nashville is definitely the stunning community of artists and writers we have here, which I think gives rise to it being a stunning community in general. I’ve noticed that there is a spirit of collaboration rather than competition here, and I have no doubt that stems from the community centering on writers who spend their time coming to know their own hearts. A community of hearts who know who they are and know that they have something of value to offer is able to be welcoming and diverse and collaborative in a way that a community of hearts who see others as competition and as a threat is not able to be. A welcoming community then offers fragile and timid hearts who don’t yet know their own beauty a space to discover it. That beauty then shines brighter and brighter in the light of encouragement, as does the whole community – becoming a stunning tapestry of unique threads and voices. I think Nashville has this mastered better than anywhere else.
The only thing I’d change is the traffic! But even that I can’t say too much about, because it is only an indication of the beautiful and welcoming community we have here, and I would not trade that for anything.
I am so amazed at how transformative Susan’s story has been, and how many people it has impacted throughout the process. Her advice on loving yourself first really, really hit me, and is something that I’m going to be thinking about for a while! I hope that you’ll spend today taking some time and realizing your true worth, and then out of that sharing your joy with others.
Have a fantastic rest of your week!