I didn’t intend on painting a #ShePersisted woman yesterday when I walked into my studio. In fact, I had gone into the studio with the intent to tidy up and get some things ready for a course I’m taking on Saturday.
And then… the muse whispered… and I heeded her call… and #78 in the #ShePersisted Series was born.
Last evening, when I showed her to C.C., he commented that he really likes how I do eyes.
I laughed. I do not think I do eyes well at all. In fact, I struggle the most with the eyes. I painted over No. 78’s twice (and am still not happy) I told him.
“I feel like eyes are the mirror of my life,” I told him. “I struggle to get them right and with every struggle, I improve just a little bit and sometimes, to make it easier on myself, I paint them closed and then figure out how that ‘fits’ with the story. Like in life, I work at doing better, at righting wrongs and then some days, I just want to close my eyes and ears and heart and pretend I don’t see the wrongs and there’s nothing I can do.”
And I went on about the struggle and commitment and all that jazz until I ran out of steam. Gently and succinctly, he replied, “I think you’re amazing.”
Gotta love a man who listens and then doesn’t try to fix or argue you into ‘seeing the bigger picture’ or some other perspective. He just listens and when you’ve had your say, he simply affirms you.
And that is the genesis of No. 78.
In everything I’ve read about racism, cultural genocide and other forms of human eradication and ‘othering’ of our differences (I’d like to call them ‘our uniqueness’s’ but as a humankind, we are not there yet) by a dominant culture which also has historically believed it is superior because of the whiteness of its skin and its God, getting out of the way is critical to change.
Giving way, stepping aside, giving up centre stage, letting go of trying to ‘handle’ change for someone else or in ways that make it easier for us to stomach is essential for those who have been racialized and marginalized and subjected to cultural traumas about which, because we who have not experienced them in their skin/faith/shoes, can not truly understand nor comprehend. The deep historical and present impacts of their trauma can only be healed from within both their body of culture and their bodies. Not by ‘us’ telling them what to do, or how to do it or leading the way.
We do not have the answers for another.
We can create space for ‘the other’ to create a path that is reflective and supportive of what they have identified as their needs, their way, their right to make change happen and to lead their own way. And the only way we can do that is to get out of the way, step back, move aside, give way and give space for voices of cultural experience to be heard.
The impetus for No. 78 came from an article I was listening to on the radio about the rise of violence and racism in Canada against people who can be easily identified as of Asian descent. I am both confounded and saddened.
And in my confusion and sadness, I turn to the canvas. To the page. To nature to walk myself through my thoughts and feelings to understanding, harmony, acceptance, compassion, balance.
I’m not there yet.
No. 78 is just one step on a long journey. With each step I learn something more, I expand my compassion, my understanding, my sense of hope that one day we will quit repeating history – at least the bad parts.
And, as I take each step, I remember back to a song by James Keelaghan that speaks so eloquently and compellingly to me. I met James many years ago when he volunteered to perform at a concert I was producing as a fund raiser to support an organization working with street engaged teens. His heart and compassion are big. So is his story-telling.
Ever since meeting James and hearing his music, I always play his My Skies CD as I travel down off the summit of the Coquahalla Pass towards Hope. On that CD is a song that reminds me always that when we target one group we are ripping apart our own hearts and shredding our own humanity.
Below is James Keelaghan performing Kiri’s Piano. The second video is his story about writing and performing that song – it’s well worth the listen.
And I come full circle to Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and its powerful question… “When will we ever learn?”