Last weekend–Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday day–I worked with the lovely Emily Culver at Endicott College with a group of middle school students from Lynn public schools. They were immigrant kids from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Brazil and Iraq. Our job focused on creating a theatre piece about the immigrant experience.
It was a little tricky. I’d created a series of questions for them to answer, over-estimating their English language skills. But then their teachers, who were in the room, along with Emily, started interviewing them. And we did a pop up–anyone who wanted to could stand up and tell a funny story or any story at all.
The first boy stood and said he hadn’t seen his mother for two years, that she was still in the Dominican Republic, and every time they were on the phone she’d start crying, then he’d start crying, and they’d just cry together on the phone.
Another girl broke into sobs.
So I turned to the group and asked how many of them hadn’t seen family members for a year or more. 3/4 of them raised their hands. I asked how long. They called out numbers–3 years, 4 years, 9 years, 10 years.
The way life cracks you open, without warning, looking at children who have left home behind. The hope they have for your country. Pandora’s last gift.
I went home and read their statements, and a couple students from Iraq had written about family members being shot, or shot and killed. I couldn’t help but wonder whether American soldiers did the killing.
Their stories thrummed inside me as I wrote the script, dividing their text, shaping it, keeping it as intact as I could. It thrummed next to my thoughts of not seeing people I have loved, of violence, of this broken and beautiful world, of how we hope, how we must keep hoping or grow bitter, which I do not want to do.
I have been made better by these students and their stories. This is what theatre is supposed to do.
And after it was over, after I’d fallen in love with all of them, and had to say good-bye to their eyes looking up at me, wanting what children want–a moment of connect, of love, of you are special–I went home. And woke the next morning to a phone call I could not have expected, from my sister, with whom I have not spoken in twenty-two years.
Lately, I’ve been calling the mystery at the center of things, “The Grid.” This isn’t original. I stole it from a great lesbian detective novel called, “Blue.”
Anyhow. It seems the grid has gotten interested in me.
Those beautiful children.
Metta for them, and for the odd congruence of them opening my heart so wide I could be in a morning, in a day, witnessing my fears, but inhabited by the courage of hope as I spoke to my sister.
Metta for all of us, as we make our way in the dark toward we know not what, stumbling most of the way.