Singer Ani DiFranco performed in my city recently. Curious about her, my internet surfing led to some of her great music. Ms. DiFranco is a political activist/artist in the mold of Peter Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. I am quite certain if we drank Fair Trade coffee together we would have lively conversation.
What intrigued me about Ani was the mess this New Orleans’ resident inadvertently got into last year when she booked the Louisiana Nottoway Plantation for a “Righteous Retreat.” The goal was to have a four-day songwriting and creativity workshop. Some of her activist colleagues, however, were appalled she picked a place built by slaves and now owned by a billionaire. They demanded Ani cancel the retreat, and she did. On her website she wrote, “I did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness.” This apology wasn’t strong enough so she had to apologize a second time!
To Ms. DiFranco’s credit she went the extra mile to make peace with her critics. But it felt sad that an opportunity to gather artists for a “Righteous Retreat” was squelched. It is a difficult balance to honor the past, work fruitfully in the present and envision a better future for both people and places. Can you think of places personally and in community that experienced grief and have been transformed? For transformation to happen there usually are some unselfish people behind the scenes envisioning something better and committing themselves to the labor. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth!”
Recently, my octogenarian friend Belle told me a sweet story that is connected to this theme of healing places and people. For years, Belle’s large family had gathered at her home for special events. On one of these occasions, Belle went to the door to be greeted by her little granddaughter, who had so much fun picking all of grandma’s tulips. Belle’s spontaneous reaction resulted in three generations of females suffering heartache that day. Their collective memory was a mess.
But here is the good ending: their memory was redeemed. Belle said just this past Easter–as at many other family gatherings–her now grown-up granddaughter presented her with a tulip bouquet. Smiling, the young woman said, “Remember, Grandma, when….”
Wherever you can, work to heal collective memories and places.