I am beginning a new painting this week that will be dedicated and donated to Geneva Elementary School. It is a gratitude painting to the school community for nurturing both of my displaced middle school children–and their classmates–following the closure of their school after a fire in November of 2009. My son Ian was an original refugee from the fire and the Geneva community was remarkable in its ability to respond quickly to the needs of this group of students and teachers. My daughter Chloe followed this year and has equally thrived at Geneva amidst the uncertainty of not having a middle school and the expectation of attending a different school every year for her entire middle school experience. This turning lemons into lemonade is in no small part due to the dedication and commitment of the Whatcom teachers and the entire Geneva School Community who had to stretch and realign themselves to accommodate the changes thrust upon them–all with a positive and fun attitude.
Although Rilke (my favorite poet to turn to for inspiration) addresses the traits that were required of all those affected in this situation– the embracing of uncertainty, the living of the questions, the allowing of the course of events to unfold–I’m choosing another poet’s words to reflect upon as I create this painting. Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, naturalist and author who is often considered our nation’s contemporary Thoreau or Emerson. President Obama just this past month awarded Wendell Berry the National Humanities Medal. I have only recently been introduced to his poetry and the Peace of Wild Things is considered one of his more well-known poems. The poem feels right for this painting because it calls upon us to release our worries of the past and future and give ourselves over to nature and live in the present “like the wild things who do not tax themselves with forethought of grief”. It also feels symbolic of those things that Geneva Elementary School and its staff offered and what the location of the school in the trees represented to these students in helping them through the drama of losing their school.
I’m hoping that the painting will find its way into a quiet space from which to be reflected and contemplated upon–along with the accompanying poetry. I’m hoping that it serves as a reminder of the respite that the school offered to these students. I’m hoping to reflect back the natural setting that is so special about the school–and express how nature does serve to calm and remind us to pay attention to the here and now. And that even though we, as parents, initially in the shock of the event worried about how this experience would negatively affect our children, now talk about their resilience and ability to thrive despite the obstacles set in front of them. We are proud of how our children developed both strength and flexibility through this experience. And finally, with this painting, I have the artist’s desire to show how poetry and art facilitate and open up avenues of expression that help us understand these complicated and abstract ideas and remind us of our compassionate selves.
The Peace of Wild Things When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.