Language matters. When you find the words that perfectly frame, illuminate, capture an experience, it gives more depth, clarity and meaning to that experience. Listening to a podcast by that wise old bard Michael Meade, I rushed for my pen when I heard him say:
We are here to witness the collapse and participate in the renewal.
Ka-ching! Meade is well attuned to the daily news, but sees it all through the larger lens of a timeless mythological perspective. Where others misinterpret the “Apocalypse” as the end of the world, he returns us to its original definition as a dynamic of both collapse and renewal. The workings of Nature’s cycles and culture’s cycles, where the collapse of one thing ushers in through renewal the birth of the next, like Winter into Spring. In the midst of collapse, it’s hard to see the seeds of renewal and easy to succumb to despair. But one definition you’ll find online is as follows:
The word apocalypse means revelation. That which is uncovered. It comes from the Greek word which literally means to pull the lid off something.
That invites multiple interpretations, but one can be to reveal that which is hidden.
• Pandora’s Box: When she opens it, out flies wrath and greed and gluttony and lust, disease, war, vice— in short, all the stuff of the daily news that is always with us, but seems to have had a field day since 2016. (You might also imagine unleashed wild dogs rampaging through the town to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”) But what’s hard to see is the Hope that stayed hidden at the bottom of the box when the lid was closed. And now we can see it starting to peek out. The midterms. Republicans and Fox News finally starting to distance themselves from “He who shall not be named”, who himself is starting to unravel as he screams at another wild dog. The rise of women's power even as the old guard tries to keep them down.
• The African Queen: Many times I’ve found comfort in that powerful scene in the Bogart/Hepburn film where they’ve seemed to reach the dead-end of a leech-filled river that turns into a bog and they go to sleep convinced that they will perish. The camera pans out and with that overview, you can see the large lake they were hoping to reach a few hundred yards away. During the night, the rains come and the boat drifts on its own to reach the lake.
Yesterday I gave a 4-hour workshop outside of Toronto, my personal path of constant renewal, and tried to connect the usual fun and frivolity of playing, singing and dancing together with the deeper purpose of personal and collective healing. I affirmed what I’m hearing from many teachers— that teaching feels harder than ever, that kids are acting out, that parents are more anxious, that administrators are more distant from creating an inclusive community that honors its teachers (except for the ex-principal friend of mine who came to the workshop and noted that I insulted her profession!). All symptoms of the collapse of old notions of education that cared more about test scores than creative projects, more about right answers to questions most kids don’t actually care about than the vibrant questions they come up with, more about obedience and outer control than community and inner control. I noted that my hope coming out of Nature’s pandemic time-out in our room would be to emerge with new determination not to reduce education to screens (especially with almost two years of online classes!)—and yet, there are signs that screen time in classes is worse than ever and music, that soothing healing bath of possibility, is still seen as on the edge of the matter as kids struggle to “catch up” on their math skills.
So part of the job of today’s teacher is to be a witness to the collapse, to testify as to the destructive systems, to undo the folded lie of ignorant decision-making, to speak out on behalf of the children’s deeper needs. All necessary and important and hard to do when we have to plan tomorrow’s classes.
But simply naming what’s wrong is impotent to make real change if we’re not creating what’s right. As Vaclav Havel said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Hope is not a passive noun, but a muscular verb activated by that conviction. So as I share both material and ways of realizing it that welcomes the children, helps them feel seen, heard, known and valued, allows them to express their extravagance within the container of art, gives them the techniques and understands to help control that expression, I’m trying to give the teacher the tools to “participate in the renewal.” To actively create the change we want (and need) to see in the world.
So there you have it. My personal Mission Statement given new language, our collective Mission Statement reminding us all to witness and participate how we can, when we can and with whom we can.
Witness the collapse. Participate in the renewal.