This dramatic reading is a re-imagining of two of Abraham’s wives—Sarah and Hagar. It attempts to both respect and conflate the various interpretations of each woman in Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions, and among the African-American community. The women are trying to explain their historical lives, understand their present identities, and the connections between the two. The beginning and end should have a serious tone, while the middle sections are more conversational, as if they are figuring things out along with us.
It was originally performed by Elsa Peters and Stacy Smith at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in May 2006.
(The two women start seated in chairs about three feet from one another, facing straight forward. They are unaware of the other one when they begin speaking.)
SARAH: In the greatest sense of myself
HAGAR: With a clear vision of my own identity
SARAH: I am not myself
HAGAR: I see that I am not a person
SARAH: I am not a woman, with a birth and a life and a death
HAGAR: I am not even a slave
SARAH: I am not Hebrew
HAGAR: I am not Egyptian
SARAH: My name is not Sarai
HAGAR: I am not called Hagar
SARAH: Or Sarah
HAGAR: Or Hajar
SARAH: I am the matriarch
HAGAR: I am the matriarch
SARAH: I am Jewish and I am Christian
HAGAR: I am Muslim and I am African
SARAH: I bear the birth of my people
HAGAR: In my own history
SARAH: And so I am honored
HAGAR: I am revered
SARAH: But I am despised
HAGAR: And I am shamed
SARAH: But it was not always so. There was a time when I was a person. Barely a person, only a woman, not a mother. But I had a home and a husband. My husband had no need of children; he was content in life and so was I. Looking back, I’m almost embarrassed to admit our lineage was of little importance to us back then. We always did swim against the current, I suppose. And there were expectations, no doubt they were there, but we paid them little attention. We lived a life, and it was ours.
HAGAR: I never had much of anything. Everything was always…I really don’t know whose it was, but it was never mine. I’m sorry, I don’t remember much from those days. A lot has happened since then, and it’s hard to remember myself as a person. But I was, I know I was. There was a time when I lived, and I lived free and happy. It wasn’t much. I was a woman and a slave, so back then I meant very little. But there was a place in time that was mine, a series of moments where I walked and talked and lived. At least I had that much.
SARAH: And then He came along. I say “He” because I think only a man could mess up a woman’s life that badly. No woman would do that to another woman. Well, no woman except for me, I suppose. But what was I supposed to do? He promised my husband a family. From where? Not from my husband, but from me. My body was not my own anymore. Maybe it never really was. Maybe He made me barren from the beginning just to make this whole thing happen, I don’t know. But I felt like it was mine. And now, without a question, without a thought to me and my life, now I have to produce a son, somehow. I had no choice.
HAGAR: I won’t pretend the situation in which I gave birth was a good one. I won’t pretend it didn’t hurt, and even though I loved my son, I’ll never say that I wasn’t full of rage and frustration at my own powerlessness. She gave me to her husband. Like a present, with a big red bow. Whatever piece of myself I had was gone.
SARAH: I did give her to my husband, but you already know that don’t you? I won’t pretend the situation was a good one, although sometimes I think if Ishmael had been a daughter we wouldn’t be in this mess. But I know what some of you think of me. I mean, for some of you I’m the chosen one, the one who overcomes obstacles to do the right thing. But I also know that some of you see me like the villain. I guess in some way that’s fair. But when I was in that life, I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t your mother back then. I was no one’s mother. I wasn’t respected or esteemed. I was just an old barren woman. And I thought that this was a path, a way through although no way really existed. At least not for me, not then, not in that life.
HAGAR: I know how some people see me. I know that some hate that I had to leave, and some feel pain with me. And some people think I had to go, that I wasn’t supposed to really be there in the first place. And some have gone with me into the wilderness, and searched for water with me, and run frantic with me, and given up with me. But this is in my new life, my new life as the mother of all people.
SARAH: Life is so ironic, isn’t it? The moment I think I understand, it all turns around. They came to my house—after all of this, after everything I had done—they came to my house and told me that I would have a son. I couldn’t believe it, I mean could you? And I laughed.
HAGAR: And I cried.
SARAH: I laughed at the absurdity of it all.
HAGAR: But the tears I shed were not for myself. They were for you. Oh, I’m confusing you aren’t I? I know it’s confusing, I barely understand it all myself. But even when I was alone, I knew that She was with me. I say She because only a woman could really know the fear in my heart, fear that my child would starve and shrivel and die. But She wouldn’t let that happen. She led me to water. My child survived, and so I became the mother of all of you. Some of you need me to be alone and cry, and some of you need me to be your strong mother. I will do everything I can to be both for you and everything in between. Because She has come to me and so I belong to you.
SARAH: I laughed because it was tragic. Oh that sounds awful doesn’t it? Please don’t misunderstand me. I was so angry with Him. I didn’t trust Him, but then He blessed me anyway. Why? Why would He do that for me? I don’t know; I don’t understand it. I think maybe it’s because He wanted you to know, you in this life, what He would do for you. All I know is when I did have my son, it was like…well, it was exactly, life. New life, for all of us. And because of Him, I am the mother of all of you. In this life, I mean. Maybe in both, I don’t know.
HAGAR: (to Sarah) — It’s not easy being all these things, all these identities for other people, is it?
SARAH: (to Hagar) — No. Did you know that I was here the whole time?
HAGAR: Yes, but I needed to make sure they could hear what I had to tell them. Did you know?
SARAH: Yes. But I couldn’t look at you. I was too ashamed for the both of us.
HAGAR: I do not think you’re the oppressor.
SARAH: And I do not think you’re the victim.
HAGAR: Do you really even remember much from that life?
SARAH: (laughs) Really just what I’ve read in books. It’s hard to distinguish one from another.
HAGAR: I know. But I feel like I know myself now. Do you think they’ll ever really know us, know who we were, and who we are for them?
SARAH: I don’t know. I hope so. Did you think we’d ever really talk again?
HAGAR: I don’t know, but I hoped so. Because, really, you’re the only other person who could understand.
SARAH: I think they can. One day, I think they’ll get it.
HAGAR: Yeah, as soon as we do.
SARAH: I think we do. (to the audience) We are your mothers
HAGAR: Your strong and loving mothers
SARAH: We are people and visions
HAGAR: And lives and stories
SARAH: Isaac and Ishmael
HAGAR: Sisters and brothers
SARAH: Daughters of a loving God
HAGAR: A God who is trying to tell you the truth of life
SARAH: And love
HAGAR: And struggle
SARAH: And promise
HAGAR: In all our traditions
SARAH: And we are here for you.
HAGAR: Hear our voices and learn from us.
SARAH: Breathe in our friendship
HAGAR: And write your own lives