A Reflection by Luke Nephew of The Peace Poets and LitWorld
We’re all afraid to fall down. But we all have and we all will again. Falling is part of the path we’re all walking. And so when we gather in the Circle of Peace with the Residents of the Hebrew Home and the young men of The Children’s Village, we don’t hide the bruises left by the many ways we fall down, we honor the lessons that they teach.
This Springtime came with the good fortune of three Sundays in a row of our poetry circle. As winter wandered away, we met in the quiet library on the banks of the Hudson River. It is always a warm quiet. A comfortable quiet. A quiet that we fill with words woven into stories and poems. After years of doing a variety of poetic exercises mainly focusing on LitWorld’s 7 Strengths, we decided to take these three sessions to share with each other more about the stories of our lives. We used the same style of composing one big group poem, but now our creation was filled with moments and places and feelings and of course, falls that we have lived along the way.
The first week we opened up the space to describe the beginning of our story. It was an amazing collage of geography and history. The young men recounted births and moves around NYC and as far away as Darvin from the Dominican Republic and Jesus from Puerto Rico. The residents also took us for trips from Ms. Phyllis’ Ohio to Ms. Betty’s New Mexico. Ms. Leah smiled as she shared that her story began on 196th Street and Valentine Avenue in the 1920s. I almost thought I heard her wrong. I couldn’t believe it- That’s my block, my home of many years! She was born a few buildings away almost a century ago. Imagine how many times she has fallen and gotten back since then. Her smile is strong and brave.
The next week we went to the transformative moments. Here is where many folks talked about moving away from loved ones or falling in love, loosing their homes or their families, getting married or learning to be alone, first loves or final words. We listened to each other talk about how our hearts have fallen. At moments, we held back the tears at how human we let each other be. This is the gift of a poetry circle: we can recount the falls without the limits of logic. When has loosing your family or falling in love ever felt logical? Only through poetry can we arrive anywhere in the vicinity of such emotional territories. We ended this week by creating a poem called “From that Point on”, which was full of feelings and wisdom. One of the young men said, “From that point on…I knew I wanted to be with her.” It was a gentle admission of falling into young love. He said it so quietly. But it was that warm comfortable quiet and he made the whole room blush.
Our last week, I offered to the group that I’d love them to come up with a line. Timothy went ahead and proposed that we all share what we want this group to know. In our check in, he and a few others had mentioned that they were feeling really sad because this was the last time we would be gathering as a group for a long time and for some of the young men who will be leaving Children’s Village, it was their final circle of peace at the Hebrew Home. It seemed that Tim wanted to open up this emotional space for everyone. He succeeded. One by one, folks expressed their gratitude to all the others in the circle. They said it felt like family. They said they loved being together. Their tone, rising and falling in emotion. They said they learned so much from one another. They said they were going to miss everyone…
These three weeks were honest and open art-making sessions. We went places together for the first time. I think the biggest difference was sharing some of our hardest moments. Often times, it wasn’t even the words but the tone of the speaker as they said things like “from that point on I knew I wanted to appreciate life every day.” It was the tone that let us into our real experiences of love and loss, rising and falling. One of the residents came to the second week with a bad bruise on her face. She had fallen. The young men seemed to be worried about her- concerned eyes and hushed voices. But she was back. She had gotten up, gotten better and made her way to our circle to share about it. She had lived to tell about it. And so why waste the opportunity to tell? Here she was.
We did unfortunately miss the voice of Mr. Saul, a regular participant. As it turns out we learned from his friends and the staff that he too had suffered quite a bad fall. But from what this group has taught each other time and again, the falling is just part of the rising and that is how we grow. We parted with affection, gratitude and the quiet confidence that despite the falls, its springtime. Saul will get back up and have us all laughing again soon as he always does. The young men will overcome their challenges and continue growing. But while many celebrate the bright flowers and say springtime is all about the blossom, a poet remembers the seeds that came before. The brave strong seeds that endured the fall and gave birth to new life.
**Submitted by LitClub Leader, Luke Nephew