There Is a Field. I'll Meet You There
It's my last panel, on the last day of the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado. The first two women panelists have shared stories of their transgender children. Athena Edmonds, a poet and advocate for LGBTQ youth, read aloud the heart wrenching poems she wrote while her trans child, little more than a toddler, fought fiercely and unequivocally for the right to be a boy. Athena tells us, he asked me if his hair was pretty, his eyelashes? Then get rid of them, he said. After we panelists have said our pieces, a woman stands to ask her question. She has red hair. She speaks into the microphone and tells us that only on a panel like this one––Art and Healing: Words that Hurt, Words that Heal––does she dare to speak. She has a child, she says, who is homosexual. The word seems to stick in her throat. She wants help to change her child's orientation, to make him normal. "People can change, can't they?" Her eyes plead for an answer. For absolution.
Athena looks at the red haired woman. I can almost feel the sigh emanating from her body. The sadness. I knew a nine year old boy, she tells the woman, who tried to commit suicide because he was trapped in a girl's body. "Nine years old and he wanted to die."
The woman at the microphone looks around at the others in the audience. She tells us that she knows what she is saying is unpopular. And she is right. Boulder is a progressive community. She returns to her seat on legs as wobbly as a young fawn's, and remains sitting upright, eyes riveted on the stage.
A silence ensues. It has such a quality and presence it appears to shimmer like the light from the windows of the Old Chapel where the session is being held.
This is what Rumi's poem is talking about, I say, breaking the silence. Earlier I'd read aloud his much-quoted poem:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
I had spoken of the need to take off our armor of certitude and enter the field open, vulnerable. We might only be able sit at the edge the field, staring across at those we violently oppose and disagree with, but the field is the starting place, if not yet common ground. It is a place to begin the difficult and essential conversations.
What would it take to move one step closer to each other? What would each of us have to let go of? How willing can we become to engage, even when the divide between us feels impervious and permanent?
The Conference on World Affairs seems made for these moments.
On a panel I was on about immigration, a professor of international and environmental economics, born in Tehran, talked of his horror at the popularity of Donald Trump and the rise of racism in America. In words strangely reminiscent of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, he asked, "Don't I, too, bleed?"
Over the course of the week, I spoke on March to the Beat of Your Own Drum, What Story Are You Living?, Can Books Still Change the World? , We Are All Capable of Being Addicts, Happy Places, Creative Spaces, Creativity: Breaking the Blocks & Keeping the Flow, Art and Healing: Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, Door Open/Door Closed: The Immigrant Experience in America with academics, musicians, bestselling authors, psychotherapists, policy wonks, technocrats, artists, and many more.
We mix. We mingle. Beneath the different surfaces of our stories and our circumstances, we are united by our concern for the world. We know the planet is in peril--we are all bleeding. More than ever, we need to cultivate places and spaces that allow us to have courageous conversations about challenging and complex topics.
There is a field. I'll meet you there.