"I think it is a great drawing." I point out the formal elements in the drawing that are working, along with the quality of her hand in the drawing. She smiles at me shyly. "No," she responds, "I don't want it." I shrug my shoulders. "Okay, " I say, trying to find some type of acknowledgement in her eyes. She turns away and starts cleaning up the rest of her drawings.
This is an amalgamation of several conversations I had last Friday with girls of different ages after five days of drawing classes. It is an amazing experience teaching kids to draw or sculpt or paint or create. Kids, like adults, are brilliant, and when they let themselves go, they do spectacular things. It is a privelege to behold. But at some point in their development, something happens. In the presence of their peers, they have a hard time stepping up and claiming their creation. They are afraid to claim it because if it is contested, that just might feel like death.
We talked a lot about that during the course of the week. I would give them quick exercises to do to warm up hand-eye coordination, then a longer assignment, along with a group assignment for the week, and a final. During the class we would have discussions about what everyone was drawing, with an emphasis on what made a drawing good. Over and over, I told them if I could not see them in the drawing, it was not as good. If the drawing communicated something about them, it was a success. That was the only benchmark.
We talked about why we liked certain drawings and why we didn't. I facillitated conversations within the group regarding long term project strategies and individual strategies. Everyone participated. There were moments of incredible insight and courageous sharing. These children were having complex and brave conversations. It gave me hope. I could see, admiringly, that many of them would surpass me. During this week, I experienced long, rapturous moments of awe and pride.
Then came Friday. I asked all of them to compile the work they had done that week and make folders for themselves. Some folders were bulging with work, others contained only two or three pieces of paper. In the end, for some of them, it was just too hard. Too much of a risk.
Over the course of our lives, we are trained to love less, to risk less, to play it safe, because doing otherwise would risk embarrassment, or worse, on a very public level. To show great love for someone is to be completely vulnerable; not only to that person, but to the world. And this world is not set up to support love that is so free. Not right now.
But love is love, no matter who feels it, no matter who it is felt for, it is always love, and it is always okay.
But when you are 11, and you are drawing a ball in a class with a bunch of other 11 year old kids, you look around. Everyone else is drawing, looking at the ball, back at their papers, at the ball, back and forth. You are scared out of your mind. What if your ball is bad? What if it doesn't look like a ball? What if people laugh? You can't face that, you just can't put your heart on the paper and risk it being ripped to shreds, so you don't. You put half of your effort into it so that it won't hurt when people don't like it. That feels safe, and this is where it starts. You hold back, you don't give your all, you find a way to not care as much, or at least to not show how much you care, because caring is a risk. Caring is too vulnerable.
So you go through life not risking. You go through life trying to avoid exposing your passion for it. Your passion is delicate, it is volatile, and it feels like everything. And you just can't risk everything. So you go through life missing out on great experiences. You go through life feeling safe, but that safety is a fabrication. That safety is dependent upon too many things that you cannot control, and eventually, you are crushed. Eventually, though you have tried your best to protect your heart and your passion, you are stomped, and it feels like you will never recover, and most likely, you won't, because you have never had to endure this pain before. You have never had to contend with losing just about everything.
You see, you can lose your world in increments, but it is never too late to risk. It is never too late to ask to be loved. It is never too late to declare your passion for the world and claim your stake in it. You might be on death's door, but it is never too late.
I think about that every time I encounter a shy young kid, or a kid who is bullying someone else into a cage. I think about what I might do to change the course of one life. How that one life might in turn touch the lives of hundreds of people I might never meet, and I risk it. I reach out. I take the chance and I let that kid know how special she is, how great she is. I let that kid know that what he cares about matters. Even if it falls on deaf ears. Even if he looks at me like I have lost my mind. I reach out.
Because I know that love is love. No matter who feels it. No matter who it is felt for. No matter what. Showing love is never a wasted effort.
Not showing love? That. That. That is a complete waste. Every single time.