Behold how tightly we are Woven…

I climb the stairs of Franklin & Marshall’s “Other Room Theater” on the morning of Wednesday, September 13th, 2016 with unusual quiet.  It’s with presence and pause that I unlock the door into the drama space, wherein live decades of ghosts of homegrown art.  On a regular day, the spirits that move here swirl and writhe through this room infused in white hot words spoken with the faith and abandon that only the young and the most brave can summon.  In tense crosses, raging counter-crosses, glares of hatred, actions of stormy love and passion, and stories full of burning humanity, the spirits that move here, well, they move us too.  This morning though, they are silent.  Perhaps they wait.  Just beneath a black floor, between rows of folding metal chairs and a grey chalkboard, all contained within an interlocking stack of weathered bricks, every single one of these things scuffed and dented, perhaps the spirits wait in silence.  I’ve got a knot deep in my gut this morning, pulsing slow and steady, bold and heavy while I slide a push-broom past weighty, pitch-black, felt curtains in prep to greet again, the members of my Acting II class.  This morning’s session is brought to you by Election Night, 2016.  This morning’s session will be entirely improvised.  This morning’s session, we will attempt to summon the courage, consolation, transformation, wherewithal and wisdom we need to face a future that’s just sounded the silent alarm.  None of us are well-versed in politics.  Call us stupid, but Trump’s victory last night came to us as surprise.  My students; intelligent, young, progressive, art-minded, diverse, full of compassion and on the cusp of meeting the professional world for the first time as adults, enter the room feeling this wind of change with immediate and pressing concern.  To my knowledge, there is only one student in the class that does not claim GLBTQ, Latino, Black, Jewish, female or immigrant as at least part of their identity.  From the look of it, if they slept the previous night, it was likely fitful at best.  Myself too, but it’d be ignorant to say the stakes are as high and direct for straight, degreed, middle-class white guys like myself, presently in charge of greeting the group so hushed with heartbreak, now unloading their bags, taking off their shoes and gathering to sit together, center-stage.

Sorrowful, defeated and afraid, they appear as if in mourning and it’s clear that I must hold space right now for whatever they need to talk about.  We begin each day seated in a circle with 10 minutes of meditation.  In my view, concentration is essential to the habits of compelling performance.  An individual that is aware of his or her thoughts, emotions and body; capable of directing and redirecting each while at work, is much more suited to deliver a performance that is powerful, present and relatable to an audience.  Meditation in its many forms, exercises the “concentration muscle”.  Today, these ten minutes are excruciatingly long and difficult.  Thoughts are the creators of emotion, which turn around again to co-create thoughts, and so the cycle goes.  It’s a difficult phenomenon to keep watch over, much less control, on a normal day.  Today in my meditation, I respond to my thoughts, over and over and over again, “Yes, that is a valid concern, but please wait a moment while I take this time to breathe.”  The sound of sniffling.  The sight of one student moving to lie down and curl her body.  Another wiping away tears.   “Yes, these concerns are valid.  Please wait a moment while I take a few more breaths.”  The feeling of their sorrow and doubt.  Of mine.  The world feels unsafe for them now.  Their personal safety is in question.  “Yes.  That is truly a valid concern. Please, a moment while I take this breath.”  The desire to check the time and see how much longer we have to sit still.  This is difficult for them.  I don’t know if they’ll be able to hold out for another much longer.  “YES, I acknowledge you.  PLEASE, just this inhalation…  this exhalation…”  The timer sounds.  Silence broken.  Tension and attention, released.  We take a moment to unravel, to straighten our bodies and face the inward circle.  We bow in.

The next hour is mostly comprised of confessions.  Experiences, fears, anger and uncertainty about what’s to come.   The best I can do is to hold space for lamentation, words and tears of grief, and to encourage them to be open to the possibility of unexpected outcomes, if only to spot and help opportunities and changes come about.  But I come to a tentative conclusion (as you may have read in one or another previous entries, I’m not fond of coming to conclusions of opinion).  To me, the biggest political divisions in this country, and on the planet for that matter, come down to a simple question with long-rippling implications; a question that I perceive peoples’ political views and actions hinge upon so directly…  It’s this:

How big is your “Us”?

That is, ultimately, what does “us” mean to you?  It ranges from “Me, myself and I”, to “My family and friends”, from “My country”, to “Every living thing on the planet, now until the end of time.”  And perhaps it’s simply a lens that I’ve been watching the 6 months preceding the election through, but I see it as the crux of the issue, why the 2017 United States is being referred to as the most widely divided it’s been, perhaps since the Civil War.  I don’t know if that’s true.  I’m no historian.  My whole life, I’ve not been as politically responsible as I likely should be.  I pay attention to people’s hearts though, and I see great love, compassion, care, sacrifice and generosity so readily given away between people wherever I go.  Friends, family, strangers, wherever I am, whatever group, large and small, I see beautiful acts from “US“.  As for them, well, depending on who they are, sometimes we’re looking to get them to come with us, sometimes we’re not, sometimes they get what they deserve, sometimes they get what we deserve.  Sometimes we learn they were never one of “US” after all.  I’ve never won an argument to change someone’s mind about it, but to me, everyone here is my “US”.  I’m as guilty as the next person of falling short on follow-through when it comes to putting my time, money and body in the places they could be to help more, but I hope Woven helps articulate the idea in a better way than I could ever argue.  It’s my prayer in answer to all of the confessions made by myself and the students of my Acting II class on the morning of Tuesday, September 13th, 2017.   Here’s the link to the live performance of it, and here are the lyrics:

Sticks and stones, broken hearts and bones, and the truth be told,

We might not make it through the night

Both young & old, it’s the pain we hold, it’s so hard to shoulder

please lord just help me get it right

Now I watch her cry for the falling sky & the crumbling signs

And I fear we’re losing ground

With hopes so high & eyes so wide on the highest climb

No wonder it feels so far when we falter

 

But the dust will clear, the straight and queer will be enfolded

The wheel will spin, every shade of skin will be golden

The scale will shake, Athena will unseat the throne

The seeds are sewn, behold how tightly we are woven

 

Now it’s no surprise, mothers die, cells divide (or poets dive)

And I’m here sitting still and centered now

If what we will is what we find, and what we find is they’re the same inside

Tell me one thing: how many does your us abide?

 

The dust will clear, the straight and queer will be enfolded

The wheel will spin, every shade of skin will be golden

The scale will shake, Athena she will take the throne

The seeds are sewn, behold how tightly we are woven

 

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