“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.” ― Alice Walker
We are certainly in a period of growth.
Two years ago our school packed up more than twenty years of memories (and dance costumes, and boxes of clay, and books, so many books, and tubes of paint) and moved across town as bulldozers razed a building we loved to make way for a new campus that was still a dream. Our initial thoughts were tinted with emotion. We wept a bit at the loss of a familiar home and leapt into a future uncertain of what it would feel like to learn somewhere else.
But we’re creative souls and over the first few months at our temporary building we adapted (and then adapted again when a leaky roof at a nearby K-5 school swelled our school with elementary students) and found that we could make art even in unfamiliar climes. Heck, in February we put on a three stage spectacular in the venues we’d made out of a gym converted into a dance studio, a commons made into a music stage, and a black box theater that had hosted the musical Cabaret. It was awesome, and less than a month later we found ourselves learning from home, campus empty as a result of a global pandemic.
We grew again over the months and months and months we were apart. As Alice Walker described it, “Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening.” We didn’t know what was happening, not from month to month, week to week, or sometimes day to day. And yet, like that seed in her description of growth, we pushed upward.
Sometimes the weight of learning (and teaching) alone was crushing. Sometimes we felt “hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical” and even as we looked around for something or someone to give us perspective we found little to reassure us. And yet, like that seed, we pushed upward.
The partial return to school has felt like a sliver of sunlight to some of us. It is not school as we knew it, but it is not school as we have known it for the past year or so. And the next year?
The next year we return to a campus we’ve never been on before. The new building stands on the same ground our school has occupied for as long as we’ve been a school. New construction connects with the established performing arts center that has been a part of our collective experience for more than a decade. Much about the new place will remind and reassure folks that our history and our traditions (and our art too) matter very much. Wainscoting from the old building has been salvaged and installed on the reception desk in the main office and the library circulation desk in the new building. Artwork from our permanent collection, some of which has been in storage for two years, will go back up on walls. Students, staff, and alumni should step into the new building and feel like they’re coming home.
But just as the building has changed, those students, staff, and alumni have changed too. The past two years have seen societal change and personal change in our world and in our hearts. The strange feeling of separation so many of us have felt, only now being chipped away at by coming to campus and seeing each other, well some of each other, again, has made those changes in ourselves and our world feel stranger still. And yet I want to believe Alice Walker when she says: “it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
A few months from now my school will be in a new building, our third in four years, and while I don’t know what COVID restrictions will look like in the fall I imagine that as the months stretch on we’ll see more and more of each other. Performances will resume in person. Classes will be filled with students. Laughter will echo in the hallways and the piano in our commons will bring music back to the masses.
But Depeche Mode references aside, this growth has been confusing and frustrating and hard. And… we are strongest when we are here for one another. We are best able to grow and change for the better when we are each other’s support. As a school, as a community, as human beings, we can come out of these two years of change stronger, kinder, and more filled with hope.
Put another way… “Hang on Little Tomato” by Pink Martini.