The work we need to do is showing its impact on us. It’s been a heavy, and emotional day. I’d woken up early, like several others, to get a head start on our blog posts, the increasing development and maturity of which is inversely proportional to the speed at which we can write and send them on to Ahmad to upload. In the midst of some fierce thinking in the kitchen-cafe, I got distracted by haunting sounds from the living room next door. ‘What is that?’, I asked Greg when he came into the kitchen-cafe, ‘It’s making me sad.’ ‘Join us’, he said. And so I did. Only to be flooded by a sudden, inexplicable admixture of loss and longing. I’d never heard the music before, but it pulled, almost too tightly, at my heart even as my mind tried to place it. ‘Rumi’, ‘reed’, ‘poetry’, ‘Persian’, amongst a dozen other words and places and concepts raced through my head. Nebulously strange and familiar, new yet old, past as well as present, it unsettled and stilled in equal measure, jumpstarting an incredible conversation between Greg and I.
And so the tone for the first reading of the day was, for me, at least, already set by this ‘merely’ improv performance by Greg and a Kurdish colleague of his. Denise Vargas’s ‘Shadow’ raised a key issue of authenticity — how does one square being true to oneself, seeking pleasure and fulfillment, with wider community and societal expectations about responsibility and the collective creation of meaning? ‘Be the voice/that breaks the silence, not the echo. Be song, be scar/be question/be anything but shadow’ urged Vargas, which led to much discussion about the different connotations of shadow in different geographical and cultural contexts. For all its diminishing associations in the poem, shadows and shade instead evoked for many of us elsewhere, images of refuge, safety, and tranquility. This also led to a rich discussion on different models of leadership.
Another important question raised in the discussion for this reading, as well as the one that followed, namely, ‘An Open Letter to Eric Schmidt‘, by Mathias Dopfner, was ‘How do each of us change something destructive into something constructive?’ More bluntly, perhaps, it challenged us to come face-to-face with a rather inconvenient truth — how do we get over our anger, our disappointments, our sense of injustice, our betrayal by others, our hopelessness? In other words, how do we get over ourselves and out of our own way to do the work that needs to be done? Especially when we are in the thick of it and don’t have the will, the capacity, the energy or the time or the clarity or the headspace to do so. It’s an important life lesson. There are no easy, single, answers — just a toolkit, maybe an emergency pack, of principles and strategies. Do we have the foresight to pack it for the journey of life?