"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come."
Building community is a sacred process, so I begin here, with a Chinese proverb that a healer and social worker turned into a song. The sacred has an intensely personal dimension to it, and the singing bird rips it open for me.
Three weeks ago I wrote a column called "The Barbara Tree," in which I talked about two things: the orange papier-mâché bird that mysteriously appeared on a branch of the linden tree that had been planted in a nearby park in honor of my late wife; and a blog-in-progress I'm in the process of launching, with some friends, called Chicago Spirit, which seeks to celebrate the world-in-progress that so many people are creating: the world beyond war, eco-exploitation, domination consciousness, spectator culture and the privatization of the commons.
I invited response, i.e., participation, having no idea what it would look like. This is not a simple world, as cynics would dismiss it. It's a world of risky reaching out, groping for connection. What I got was music, art, story. What I got was politics, courage and craftsmanship, sometimes wrapped around anger, more often wrapped around love. And birds and trees kept showing up in fascinating and heart-wrenching ways.
"I too lost my wife to a long term disease and I think of her often," wrote Michael Boyter. "Paula also loved birds and our back yard was transformed by her love and care into a national bird sanctuary."
And so begins community, at the level of loss and truth. "I have a college degree in Environmental Studies and Solar Energy Design," he went on. "I understand what we need to do to save our planet, our environment and our civilization. Has it gone too far down to be saved?
"Repowering hope," he said, "that is something that needs to be done for the people of the USA and the world."
"Hope is the thing with feathers," wrote Suzanne Ross of the Raven Foundation, quoting Emily Dickinson. The foundation's mission is to make "religion reasonable, violence unthinkable and peace a possibility."
And so the responses intertwine.
"'Lipa,' wrote Vesna Reberak, "is a linden tree in Slovenian and many other Slavic languages. LIPA -- Links for International Promotion of the Arts -- (is) an international arts exchange program started in Washington, D.C. as an Artist for Peace program after my husband died in a mountain climbing accident in 1997."
The LIPA website informs us that she is curating a traveling exhibit called "To Fear or Not to Fear," which "is bringing together artists from Iraq, Iran, Israel, Northern Ireland, Russia, Bosnia and the USA, the places that are inflicted with violence and crisis. It explores deeper humanity that hopes to dispel notions of clashing civilizations with common ground."
We're caught in systems of exploitation and alienation, imprisoned in our sense of self. Creativity stirs the future.
"I wanted to introduce you to Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative," Fenton Wilkinson wrote from North Carolina. "I initiated the project to be a tool for creative healing through demonstrating what a new values system of commerce might look like, where the win-lose mentality is replaced by win-win 'we're all in this together' -- our favorite saying.
"Your comment about Baltimore's City Springs School -- 'a philosophy of teaching, keeping order and creating community that involves everyone as a full, equal participant' -- struck a particular cord, given that SF2T is the first co-op in the country where all the parties to the commercial transaction (growers, consumers and staff) are all equal owners."
And Barbara Lee Henson wrote describing herself as "an antique child of 68 years young, stroke survivor (it took the use of the right side of my body but not my spirit!). That bird is hope for us all.
"One day my husband wheeled me into the garden he had planted with a sign that said 'Barbara's Paradise.' I stared at a hydrangea flower and thought, 'I could draw that! Just little dots of pink and blue and lavender!' I went back inside and found the simple art program that came as a basic on the computer. Using my mouse (his name was Chester), I drew my first picture!"
Her son eventually installed a more sophisticated paint software package and "I was like a kid in a penny candy store with 25 cents to spend! I was alive again! I could do something! I could create Art. I awoke each morning with excitement! New ideas!"
She added: "The enemies of our nation are not other nations, but CANCER!!!! GREED!!!!! BIGOTRY!!!!"
And suddenly I'm full circle, back where I started, communing with Will Fuderman, musician, acupuncturist (author of a manuscript titled Deeper Than Prozac: Emotional Healing with Chinese Medicine), who sent me a YouTube link to his song "Green Tree." As I listened, I realized, shaking with awe, that the singing bird has landed.
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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2012 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.