Giving

The Return of Boo Radley

A random act of artistic kindness..

The Secret Kingdom

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In “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Boo Radley left gifts for Jem and Scout in the knothole of an old, oak tree.  He wanted the children to be aware of his presence, to understand that he cared for them, and to know that he was watching out for them.

Now, I am going to tell you a story that will explain why I call this painting “The Return of Boo Radley”.

Once upon a time I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my dog, Gunther. In the center of the complex, there was a large grassy area surrounding a sandbox where the kids could play.  Scattered on the ground, I would find some of the largest and most beautiful pinecones I had ever seen. Whenever I took Gunther for a walk, I would grab a couple and bring them back to my apartment to marvel over.

One day, I noticed a little girl…

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Paper Butterflies and the Art of Changing the World

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I volunteer to teach art to a group of inner city kids in downtown, Phoenix. In the summer, classes are longer and I am there for over three hours during the afternoon. Strange as it may sound, I like to go there unprepared. No lesson plan, no preconceived projects designed to hold their attention and occupy their time. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I have noticed that when I walk into that room with no expectations and open heart, a lesson will unfold.

Sitting at tables drawing together, I spontaneously picked up a piece of paper and folded it into an origami butterfly. The girl sitting next to me asked if I would show her how to make one. Yes, I told her.. of course I will.

We moved onto the floor at the other end of the room, followed by two more girls. Step by step, the four of us slowly folded pieces of paper into butterflies. While we worked, I kept talking – stopping whenever someone got lost, backing up a few steps, gently encouraging them and taking the time to make sure everyone was following along.

“The first time is the hardest,” I explained. “With each butterfly you make, it will get a little easier.”

Sure enough, after about three or four butterflies, they were really getting the hang of it.

A group of other kids wandered over to where we were sitting and asked if I would teach them how to make butterflies, too. “Yes, of course,” I replied..  then I turned to my three butterfly-makers and said, “These are your teachers.”

The girls looked at me, surprised. “You can do this,” I told them. Then I grabbed a piece of paper and waited for the lesson to begin.

Throughout the day, more and more children came into the room – “Is this the origami class?” they would ask. Yes, I replied – welcoming them into the group. Every time a new student sat down, a new teacher would be there to help them learn. Each teacher that emerged, taught their students with the same gentleness, patience and encouragement that I first showed to the three little girls. I heard them softly repeat my words to each other, explaining how the first time is the hardest.. how with each butterfly, it will get a little easier.

Although I only taught three girls, about 40 kids learned how to make butterflies that day.

How can I even begin to explain how it felt to watch the chain-reaction that unfolded before me? Children as students, learning and becoming teachers; sharing their knowledge and empowering new teachers. Over and over, the cycle continued..  like the ripples of so many stones tossed into an endless river.

When I walked into that room I was a teacher. But when I became a student, a lesson unfolded with the delicate whisper of paper butterfly wings.. and the power to change the world.

 

 

Volunteering and the Art of Time Travel

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Evidence of time travel captured in the background…

Recently, a friend told me of an exercise he read about several years ago. It had to do with empowering oneself within the memories of childhood. Basically, if you had a bad experience when you were a child, you could somehow change the outcome of it. It is an act of imagination – the Now You returns to help the Little You.

An interesting idea.

Naturally, I found myself roaming through the memories of my own childhood

Now Me, looking for Little Me..

And then I stopped.

In a way, I am already doing this.

At the center where we volunteer..

I see myself in some of the kids in our art class.

The quiet ones.

The introverts.

The lonely and the ignored.

I seek them out

and I think that the words I would have spoken to Little Michele

are the same words that I share with them.

Time travel is possible, but it is not an act of the imagination..

it is an act of love.

 

Catfish Kittens, Snakes and Exploding Hearts

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Last week at our art class there was a quiet little boy sitting by himself at a table.

He looked hurt somehow.. there was such a sad look on his face.

When it was getting close to the end, I coaxed him over and asked him to show me what he was drawing. Wow, what a talented artist he is! He made a beautiful picture of an octopus, a flower and a golden pyramid.

I showed him my drawing of a weird fish wearing a crown swimming next to a “catfish”… with the head and paws of a cat and the tail of a fish.

The little boy’s eyes got big.. his mouth twitched a little – but he didn’t say a word.

So, I asked him “Do you think catfish have kittens?”.. and the biggest smile on earth practically split his face in two. It lit up the room like the sun.

I gave that drawing to him.

When class was over, he stayed late to help us put away all the pencils and paper. I thanked him for helping us clean up.

Yesterday, the boy returned to draw with us again. When class was over, he handed me his drawing of a beautiful, polka-dotted snake and whispered, “This is for you.”

Sometimes I think my heart is going to explode.