Monday, July 7, 2014

An Update: Change is Work and Work Takes Time

Change is work, and work takes time. I've been in Williamstown, Massachusetts for a week and a few days now. I came to be a counselor at a program called Artsbridge, Inc., which was set up about eight years ago. Every summer, a group of talented and compassionate artists and educators take a group of approximately thirty students from Israel, Palestine, and the United States to an area of Massachusetts, away from the fires of home for three weeks of intensive dialogue sessions and art projects. The kids arrived here at the Buxton School in Williamstown four days ago, yet it already feels like three years since they've arrived. Energetic doesn't begin to describe this group. They came like hurricanes, bearing the force of their personalities and experiences with exuberance and spirit. I'm honored to be a part of this project.

What I've experienced so far has been a whirlwind. Things are beginning to "slow down" in the sense that now, finally, after the staff and students are all adjusted and (marginally) well-rested, we can begin the work: the intensive dialogue and group art projects that will challenge the students to their very core--and the staff as well--to think about the "other's" point of view. Opinions change, and things are fluid when it comes to self and relationships. It is here in this setting where art can thrive and truly work its wonder.

One of the reasons I was drawn to the program was that it embodied everything I knew art to be but never experienced for myself. In this program, art is not only a means of expression, but a vehicle for discussion, for opening up channels of one's self and self awareness that can lead to new discoveries, relationships, and revelations. Arts tell stories, and we all have our own story to tell. I can't wait to see what the students produce.

I broke down after the first twenty-four hours of being here (thankfully before the students arrived). I felt like a part of myself--a very big part--had been shut down for years as I bulldozed my way through school, eking out papers and bullshit thoughts about taverns in Potosi and communism in Eastern Europe. Okay, maybe it wasn't all bullshit. I love history, and I love thought, so in a way I suppose I found college stimulating and enriching. But on the flip side, I became so disconnected from myself that I forgot what joy was. I shut that part of me down--the part of me that loves to sing and dance and smile and laugh and soak up sunshine. I put that part of myself on a shelf and told myself that I was here to work. So I did.

I cried a lot in college, which isn't really saying much, because I cry all the time. But I became very sad in a way that I hadn't been in years. Why? I couldn't understand. I couldn't rationalize it. I had been given everything that I thought was important to me--a top notch education, a means to a career and a life of "success" in any profession I chose, a loving family who supported me, an on-campus apartment...even my meals were prepared for me. I had nothing to do. I had no reason to engage with the world.

So I didn't. I spent days--days--in the library, in the horribly dark and depressing basement, watching movies (for school, really), reading (sometimes very dry) articles about any sort of "ism" you can think of. I chewed on words and spat them back out in paragraphs and pages. And at the end of almost every day, I walked back to my apartment, exhausted, depressed, and alone.

Maybe I'm being a bit extreme. It wasn't all horrible. But even fun felt forced, because I had this constant weight on my chest that I was missing a deadline or missing a connection and wouldn't be approved of. This is why I can't do grad school right now. I need to remove the cinderblock from my chest and breathe.
Still, Artsbridge is definitely not a walk in the park. It is challenging me in so many ways that school never did. I can't ever escape if things get tough, and escape has always been my go-to mechanism. But I wonder if, during my escapes, I was ever processing anything. No, I don't think so. I think I just shut down.

This is what teenagers (and some adults) do; if something is difficult, you go to sleep, go on facebook, go to the library...shut down. Overload. Done. And sometimes we need to shut ourselves off so that we don't implode. But we never deal with what is in front of us if we don't, well, stay and deal.

My impulse has always been to run away. Now I feel like I want to run to something. I ran to Artsbridge, and once I arrived, I couldn't believe I was here. I felt confused, consumed, and alien. I suppose this is natural. I think it is. But I've always wondered about people who stay--why is it that they can bear the brunt of things that make me cringe and cry? For many people, it's not a choice. For the students of Artsbridge, they don't have the opportunity to run away. Home is a battlefield. In my own experience, I can't begin to understand this.

I'm struggling to conclude this posting, probably because Artsbridge is only beginning, and I know my experiences will change how I feel. I'm so excited for what is to come, and I feel more prepared than I've ever been. This is not to say that any of this will be easy, but life isn't easy. It's messy and horribly broken. There's a Jewish concept called "tikkun olam," which means "repairing the world." There's a similar concept in Christianity: "go and make disciples of all nations"--not by force, and not by might, but by building relationships with others, as did Christ, for whom "their is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free." I'm learning that discipleship doesn't mean force or change. It means meeting people where they are, and staying with them to talk about their lives. It doesn't mean "correct" or "incorrect." It means understanding. This is the discipleship I want to live, and in a scary way, I feel that I've come to the right place--not to talk about religion, but to break down barriers and realize we are all exactly the same in this world.

I realize this is a self-centered blog today. I'm hoping that eventually I can stop posting about myself and write about my observations from an unbiased perspective. But that's why I'm not a journalist...not yet, anyway. I love you all, dear family and my friends who I hope are reading this and thinking about me, because I'm thinking about you, and I love you all very, very much.


With love,
Mel

PS--If you want to learn more about this amazing program, please visit www.artsbridgeinstitute.org. You will be amazed.

2 comments:

  1. This was a great thing to read today. Thank you for sharing <3

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  2. Wow! THIS WAS AWESOME! You go, girl!

    ReplyDelete