How often do you truly appreciate your health: the ability to be fully in command of your body, mentally and physically? This spring I came into contact with an organization that has me reflecting on that a lot.
The Arts of Life provides studio space for artists who don’t have full control over their bodies, and whose minds preclude a mainstream lifestyle. I don’t know what it means to be on watch for a person who is present, but cannot express him or herself in a traditional way. I’ve only spent a chaperoned hour or two with them, but not a whole day, 24 hours, and certainly not multiple decades.
Art available for sale at the Arts of Life
As an almost obsessively self-reliant person, I cannot imagine cleaning up after an adult, who might need diapers, who might have seizures, who has no “mainstream” vocabulary, who cannot take care of basic needs on his or her own. I am not conditioned to make sure someone doesn’t eat/drink/destroy something on impulse, who is oblivious to the disruptive repercussions of this momentary compulsion.
Art available for sale at the Arts of Life
Yet on Friday evening, I had a fantastic time interacting with these individuals. People who aren’t “all there” according to our intellectual label of things, but who were far more alive and present in that moment than I was.
Gifts available for sale at the Arts of Life
I watched a fantastic dance-off to the Kodiak Farm Boys during the Arts of Life Holiday Boutique. You know that saying of “dance like no one is watching”? Well, these guys were dancing like everyone was watching, and reveling in it. And we loved it and clapped harder to encourage them more. Some of us wished to go up there with the same kind of abandon and just let loose.
The Kodiak Boys at the Arts of Life
The band didn’t mind having the designated “emcee” run up stage and correct the lyrics to Jingle Bells (and proceed to solo the entire song). They probably had the most responsive and most lively crowd that evening compared to gigs in “regular” joints.
I noticed when I bellydanced years ago, that the American culture has lost its folk dancing roots. Clapping is allowed, but spontaneous dancing as a community is nearing extinction. Moves are choreographed now, and getting caught up in the rhythm of a song, swinging hips, shimmying shoulders, stomping feet and clapping loudly is only tolerated momentarily, with much self-consciousness when called to participate in a dance.
Where did our innocence go? Why do we have to be so “self-aware” or “proper” all the time?
Ornaments available for sale at the Arts of Life
Prior to the dancing and clapping, the Chicago Painters and Artists Meetup Group assisted some of the Arts of Life artists with painting holiday ornaments. At a time where I hyper-analyze the “quality” of my own work, it was so refreshing to watch the eagerness of these men to create a craft (Arts of Life is co-ed, but this evening it was resident men in attendance). With the verbally impaired we communicated with gestures, and my sentences were replied to with grunts.
Ornament making at the Arts of Life
You know what became an art and a source of pride? Stapling! Wielding scissors wasn’t an option for the majority of residents in attendance, but they watched like hawks as I fanned a freshly painted (by them) toilet roll to get it to dry faster, and even more eagerly when I cut it into the petals. The moment the stapler was placed in front of them, I could not get the pieces lined up fast enough for them to press that stapler so their ornament would come together. I was art directed quite a bit during a task that in “normal world” I would have dismissed as “just stapling”.
T-shirts available for sale at the Arts of Life
These artists create with intensity. Their paintings are vibrant and meaningful. Their art creates a link to the families who at times went decades without being able to communicate with mute and physically hindered children/siblings/aunts & uncles. Now their art gives a glimpse into their observations, and a channel of expression.
Arts of Life Holiday Cards and Calendars
Some are more expressive than others. A few are more extroverted and become spokespeople for the Arts of Life organization. But each artist resident has something to say. I am humbled by the creativity, joy, expressiveness, compassion and intensity of the Arts of Life residents. They are fully present. They take pride in their work. They are eager to share their work with others.
Buy wrapping paper from the Arts of Life!
We can learn a lot from the light they shine upon the world. From their ability to live each moment with abandon; from the trust they exude as they dance and sing and create. There is no judgment here.
Ornaments made during our craft session
Princess Lasertron’s Radvent 6 topic happens to be Humbling. I am privileged to be humbled on a different level regularly by occasions that remind me to never ever ever judge another human being, and that teach me to not be so harsh on myself, either.
Being humble doesn’t negate your abilities, talents and skills. It is about having empathy, and meeting another human being where they are. Life isn’t all about you or propriety. Allow others to glow in their moment, and let that light shine back on you.