The Moth — 25 years of humanity, one story at a time — is probaby best known for its Radio Hour on NPR. But I live for the live storytelling events, even if the anticipation kills me. I circle the Ann Arbor event on my calendar and learn the theme weeks in advance. Recently, it was a one-word prompt that is both a universal concept in its most literal reading and open to all variety of segue:
The first story that I consider sharing is when I had my appendix removed in rural USSR and could not bear the pain of walking after the surgery until one of my mother’s close friends walked into the hospital room with a huge watermelon and I practically ran to greet him.
But do I remember enough of that childhood a world away?
Another story I considered was leaving Moscow in November 1989 with my family before dawn to commence our near four-month journey to the United States as Soviet Jewish refugees.
The story I knew would be the toughest to tell was the night I spent in Washington DC — walking the streets unable to get back to where I was staying or check into any safe place. I was severely manic and completely out of money and totally disoriented.
The date for The Moth got closer and closer. My friend Alayna committed to going with me. We have known each other since we were children and reconnected when I returned to Michigan.
In the past, if I did not have a story to share, I would not go to The Moth. This time I decided to cut myself some slack and just enjoy and evening with a dear friend, listening to the stories of others without the nerves and anticipation of performing.
Alayna and I met at 6:00 at Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea off Washington. Doors for The Moth at the Blind Pig open at 6:30 and the show starts at 7:30. We weren’t in a rush. We enjoyed our drinks and shared stories of undergrad at the University of Michigan. Around 7:00, we made our way to the Blind Pig.
Half an hour to show time, the space was already standing room only. I was shocked and a bit annoyed. Pre-pandemic, the Moth tickets would sell out in minutes. But that had not been the case for a long while. Alayna and I found a standing spot around the corner of the bar. We were to the left of the main section facing the stage and directly in front of the step leading up to the elevated left side section of audience seating.
More and more people were shuffling in. I started to feel overwhelmed and out of sorts.
“I am fine with leaving,” I said to Alayna.
“Before the show?”
We decided to stay. We had both bought tickets and drove a long way to be there. And Amir Baghdadchi was hosting. He is absolutely hilarious and my #1 Moth crush. And Alayna had not yet seen his genius so we needed to stay.
We stayed squeezed to the side of the bar as more and more people came in and made the futile effort to find seats.
The show couldn’t start soon enough. I felt agitated and annoyed with the whole situation.
All of a sudden, an older woman missed the step from the elevated seating section toward the bar and collided with both Alayna and me. The only thing that stopped her from serious injury was us breaking her fall.
The woman was shaken by what happened, especially as she gathered herself and realized how much worse it could have been. She said nothing to us.
Amidst all the chaos and without a word, I felt the presence of G-d — a deep gratitude that we had come together, that we had not found seats, that we did not leave, that we did not move.