My grandmother grew, dried, and cut the top of a gourd to make a lidded vessel. This is where I keep my Angel Cards, 52 little cards with 52 different words and tiny paintings illustrating that word. Today I choose the “Grace” card. The smudges of paint and fingerprints that cover it take me back to “the halls”.
Back to a time when I guided 15 different artists in Juvenile Hall at a time. There seemed to be a revolving door that constantly shook up the flow of attendance, so I would meet many new faces, as well as re unite with the recidivists, while trying to keep some kind of continuity for the guys who were really into what I was offering through the class. Essentially it was 2 hours, twice a week, space to express whatever spoke, sans sex/violence, on huge pieces of paper with brushes, a full spectrum of colored pencils and liquid paint. Truly a privilege if you are locked up and the usual is 6 colors of pencil and an 8 &1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.
We finished class with a ritual of choosing an Angel Card from the gourd. Many of the guys recognized a gourd saying that their grandma had grown them as well. A connection in the garden, nature so far removed from the cinder block and heavy mechanically locked doors we were sitting behind.
Typically someone would choose a card and look at me with question. What does it mean? This one word pulling past the “Dawwwg” and “Hommie” climate we were accustomed, into a place of inquiry.
As the card they chose became personal, things got serious. “But WHAT does it meeeeaaaaan?” looking straight into my eyes, an intent forehead furrowed.
I remember this question coming up once with the Grace card. I asked what does it mean to you? Amazing Grace, the song, grace at the table, a ballerina is graceful, etc. Exactly, now, leave those great ideas there in your head, and take the feeling that you feel from them and somehow in your very own way, look into your heart. Feel what grace feels like to you, without the words, and we will talk about it next week.
There were many more “next weeks”.
Though we never talked about “grace” again, the atmosphere became soft….kind of like a whisper….well…..it was grace. The energy of the class surged with quiet enthusiasm. And regardless of the revolving door, there was usually someone who eagerly
requested “the gourd”.
Again, I am so grateful to the guys in Wheeler One for reminding me of what I need to know.