Spring shot its first green on Kodiak this week. The earth has awakened and we must too.
All of creation speaks the good news: it is time to be born. It is a time to bloom, grow, feed and rest.
But this is also the week of two terrorist massacres---in Manchester, and the bus of Coptic Christians in Egypt. I cannnot turn away. I make myself look at the tender faces of the innocents, the teenage girls, the Egyptian families, of 8 year old Saffie, and I do not stop the tears. If we run out of tears for the evils done in this world, we shall all surely die.
But in these days of spring, when there is so much light in the sky yet so much darkness in the world, what shall we do? The question has come on the heels of every tragic headline: the Sandy Hook massacre, the Orlando night club bombing, killing 49, the shooting of nine African American congregants at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church. I pick up my sorrowing hands and try to write, even today. But in the face of such evil, what good is my own tiny art? What value is a frail craft of words sent out on such a terrible black sea?
But I have seen an answer.
When my daughter graduated from college, she moved to El Salvador where she lived alone in a concrete rowhouse in a small city. She worked for an NGO committed to addressing El Salvador’s endemic rates of domestic violence. Every other day, Naphtali, alone, would walk or jump on the back of a truck and grind down dirt roads to three tiny villages strung along the washed-out tracks. The families were subsistence farmers who lived in dirt-floor huts dizzied with chickens and hungry dogs. Some of the women could not read; all the women bore many children who worked in the corn and bean fields. Men wanted sons, not daughters. Her assignment was to gather women and young people into groups that would meet weekly. The women would be given micro-loans and would be taught how to manage them. More, Naphtali would use theatre workshops to help the women and youth unravel the vicious cycle of violence. I worried about her safety, and I wondered, what could theatre do against such poverty and oppression?
I flew down to El Salvador twice in those two years, standing with my daughter on the truck as it slowly growled its winding way to the thatched bamboo houses. One of those days we went to a party Naphtali had planned for weeks, an Intercultural Fiesta she called it. We played charades, each of us acting our our lives before the others. The women had practiced songs and skits they had written themselves. One skit was about a girl born to a poor mother. The mother decided to pass her daughter off as a boy, so she would be valued. The daughter grows up as a son. No one knows her true identity. One day she solves a crucial problem for the community and after, reveals her true identity. She is accepted and valued by the male leaders of her village.
They were awkward. They mumbled their lines, shyly glancing and smiling at the audience. They had never acted before. No one had ever helped them tell their stories before. But that day, standing on a dirt stage, they saw themselves; their children saw them; we saw each other.
“Beauty can save the world,” Dostoevsky has famously written. Is this our best weapon? Can Art really defuse bombs, mend the blasted bodies of children, heal the blindness of misogyny? I am learning the answer is sometimes “yes.” Even simple pantomime opens our eyes to one another, revealing the stranger as our neighbor. I suspect that terrorists and the violent must vigilantly guard their hearts against it. Music and dance could enlighten and humanize. Tender, true stories could loosen the grip on a gun. Theatre could reveal that the "other" is much like you. Thoreau asks, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
Now, I write these words that you may see the shy brave women on the dirt stage, that you may see Saffie and her bright brown eyes, that you may see our Christian brethren. In this time of guns and bombs, get busy. Use the weapons of love and Art to keep our eyes wide open.
Thank you for being here, dear friends. Thank you for seeing with me.