for Bayo Akomolafe
Yesterday morning a photographer appeared unexpectedly at the door to take pictures of me for an article that would be appearing in a small local newspaper. I had no idea this would be happening, had not yet combed my hair and was wearing different-colored socks.
“They told me to get shots of you dancing,” he told me. “You are teaching this morning – that’s what they said?”
He was a stocky Latino with a bright smile and a camera slung across his chest. Dismayed, I ran to get ready.
Meanwhile, Fascist clouds are gathering across the world and children are locked up in cells; fires are raging in the Arctic and guns are bought legally by malcontents…and I was taking the stairs two at a time to comb my hair and change my socks… to get my picture taken, dancing, by an anonymous man who appeared at my door at eight in the morning.
Stranger things have happened…
In the studio he followed the action, clicking away, and when I suggested he put down the camera and join us, he did! We spent all the rest of his time there dancing wildly together, and he went away happy.
I live for these unexpected jokes from the universe!
This was all happening because an article has just been written about me donating our home of fifty years to an affordable-housing organization, instead of selling it for a profit of over a million dollars more than we paid for it in 1966. After all these years of living so well here, raising our three children and welcoming many friends to bed and table over decades, I figured we had already gotten more than our full value out of the original $28,000 purchase price, and it seemed altogether wrong to make even a penny more on it! So I chose to offer it back to the community as affordable housing for performing artists. As an artist myself, I know how hard it is for creative people to make a living doing what we do best, and I love that my studio will continue being used as a space for rehearsals, classes and small performances and that our cozy old house will provide sanctuary for talented young people in perpetuity.
That’s what makes sense to me these days as we go through these hard times: finding sanctuary with one another, providing safe places to live and make art and learn how to be together in peace. That’s what the live-wire Nigerian poet Bayo Akomolafe says, too. When I first met him at a reading he gave here a few years ago, he asked if he could be my son!
I was sure it was some kind of in-joke I didn’t understand.
“May I call you Mother? I’m serious!” he insisted with laughing eyes. In fact, I also sensed the mutual recognition he must have felt between us, so I took him at his word and replied,
“OK, but does that mean I can scold you when you get too outrageous?” Without missing a beat he slapped his knee and exclaimed,
“My real mother would honor you for it!”
I suspect he has someone he calls ‘mother’ in every port, but so what?
Recently, Bayo sent out a short piece by email about how we might all respond to fascism, which contains this:
“As the surface congeals into fascist arrangements, and as hate and fear get codified into law, there is yet one place to go: beneath the surface. A catabasis into the under-realms. Into the folds of thick time. Into the creases of our long bodies, populated by a strange multitude. Into the fellowship of trees and the nonhuman world. Into the deep biospheres of life-death. Into dreams upon which the hieroglyphics of other worlds are faintly inscribed. Into the embrace of new questions, the asking of which is not possible when we stand on the surface of things. Into sanctuary.”
And he knows about going under the surface, which he had to do in Zaire/Congo as a boy, where his father held a government post and the family was hunted down by ‘hulking soldiers’ before being ordered to go back to Nigeria.
So I think a lot about how we find sanctuary when the world spins crazily out of control around us, and our friends and family, as well as ourselves, stumble and fall. How do we live our one wild and precious life well, despite the obstacles? How do we protect one another and try to use the situation we are in to reach higher, live stronger, love more deeply?
How do we not give up on ourselves?
I keep coming back to the two young Croatian cellists who have appeared out of nowhere, it seems, becoming a rare gift of heart-stopping music and fun that is taking the world by storm.
Along with hundreds of thousands of others, I cannot go a day without listening to their music on YouTube. I’d say I was addicted to that level of beauty, now that I have experienced it, that frequency of vibration that I am now entraining to – along with more and more people in the world. These two young musicians seem to know just what they are doing, and why, as they pour out their rich soul music on their cellos. They play to packed arenas all over the world, and people come in whole families, with babies and Grandpas, all mesmerized by their music. Millions watch them on YouTube. They are raising our vibrations song by song so that we can find sanctuary with one another way above the radar, not below it. They make us feel blessed while we dive with them into the rare waters they swim in.
Psychedelic Bach, I call it, whether they are playing Acid Rock or Rhianna or Bach Double Concerti – they dig deep down into the soul of the rich sanctuary of sound we all share.
That is where my hope lies, with the Bayos from Nigeria and the Lucas and Stjepans from Croatia and all the women running for office in America – the young ones we’ve barely noticed before who may be able to pull us all back from the brink with their large hearts and astonishing genius.
I’m with them! I am with them just as I am with the mysterious masterpieces appearing in fields of grain all around the world that we call “crop circles.”
Pay attention to them!
Just as I am with eight month-old Rylan whose eyes lead me in towards the sweet wisdom of new life, while he is still so close to the source-country from whence he came; and I am with the Earth that, despite all we have done to her, still knows how to turn on her axis and create trees and grasses and flowers – and us.
( And also knows how to kick us off if She has to.)
News is in that the Amazon is now burning too.
Like it or not, we are all in this together, sanctuary for each other.
There is no time for anything but love, no matter what!
Breathe, my friends…