April 30, 2020 by Sharon Moore
3 Generations at 2pm
I am struck by how quickly and easily these 2pm calls, Cyber Circles, communions, have found a place in my daily rhythm. And I can’t fully equate this to the Authors Circle for which I was hired to facilitate. There are only the bare bones of comparison to be made with the Authors Circles I have been part of through County. For Circle 6 in CCDOC, we met three times a week, two hours per meeting–six hours of fellowship, exploration, soul searching, sharing, creating, responding. The connection built was organic in that I saw seeds planted in concrete and steel, fed with words, human connection and trust, and watered with honesty, patience, pushes and prods.
Now there is 2pm Cyber Circle: seven days a week, every week, since Chicago was ordered to Stay Inside and Stay Safe. I have facilitated some, I have joined others, I have begged off a few. And though I have not shared physical space with any of the participants, save my roommate Hannah now and again, organic growth is taking place via Zoom and in the ether.
When Suzanne’s face turns a bit pink and tears reach her eyes, a connection, a profound one, is made irrespective of space, for her words become a conveyance of human frailty, of grace, of trust. When Niko speaks of recently rushing to embrace a friend in the market but having to stop short because of social distancing restrictions and subsequently bouncing with arms outstretched for the absence of the normal outlet of her joy in embrace, heads nod and hearts recall their own blocked release. When Tanya walks us through the process of cooking what sounds to my plebeian palette like the height of cuisine, we collectively see the eggplant and smell the rising of herbs upon the air, for we are with her through language and sound.
Earlier this week, one of the greetings that signal the start of ConTextos Cyber Circle was to name the trait or characteristic that best exemplifies who you are as a person. I didn’t think too long before responding that I have a big heart. Now, this is certainly physically accurate as I have been diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy, literally an enlarged heart. I would like to think, though I cannot really know for myself, that this is also figuratively true. I was not born into privilege, certainly not economically. But I have been privileged in experiences and education and friendship. One element that ties these together is my heart, which is almost always on my sleeve. I am empathic, clinically so. I feel, deeply, what others feel. I sense their feelings without being explicitly told. I care deeply. I deeply listen. And I love hard and long and forever.
I have been an educator of sorts my whole life. What I knew, what I was good at, I shared with others. So, as a child, perhaps 7 or 8, I brought younger kids into my doghouse lending library and read to them. As a teenager in high school, I captained the softball and basketball teams and revelled in sharing what came easy to me with those who were willing to try. It isn’t surprising then, that I would become an educator, that I would spend the bulk of my adulthood in front of classrooms listening and learning and imparting. Mostly, I have asked questions intended to lead to even more questions, in a hope that the slide into Alice’s rabbit hole would lead to self-inquiry, self-reflection, and genuine human connections. You could have knocked me over when on a 2pm cyber call, one of these questions, one from literally twenty years ago, was brought back to me.
I taught my first Introduction to African American Literature course as an Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the Spring of 2000. I was young, relative to now of course, eager and full of enthusiasm for the subject and the students. Two of the students from that term, Queena and Craig, are in my life still, though I have only sporadically spoken to, or seen them, over the subsequent 20 years. They are in my life in an e.e. cummings way, in that “I carry (their) heart(s) with me, I carry (them) in my heart.” That line reflects my relationship to the classroom space. I often wonder what, if anything, I taught my students over the years has stuck with them. They may or may not remember who coined the term “double-consciousness” to describe African American identity. (WEB DuBois.) Or who wrote that “No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.” (Zora Neal Hurston.) They may or may not remember that one should not use contractions in formal writing. I have hoped that at the very least they learned about themselves and learned that in my classroom they were seen and heard.
When the 2pm Cyber Circle began 44 sessions ago, I reached out to Queena in Vegas via text to see if she would be interested in joining. Queena in turn reached out and invited Craig. She and I text every few months or so. In reality, every few months or so, Queena reaches out to check on me. I adore her for it. She has always somehow been aware of my occasional frailty. She was at the memorial service for my partner, long after our teacher/student relationship ended. Craig and I stayed in touch through Facebook until I stepped away from social media. I knew from a distance about his moves away from Vegas and his return. Despite the tenuous contact, he was at the memorial service too. What held us together then, what holds us together now, goes back to the question Craig reminded me I used as an organizing idea in my classes: Who is the “I” that I say I am?
Queena, Craig, and I grappled with James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, among other writers. We connected because in that process of reading, discussing, analyzing, and writing, we revealed our unique “I’s” to ourselves and to each other. Both Queena and Craig became educators themselves. Queena stayed in the classroom for years and now works with the Foster Care system in Vegas, where she continues to build relationships and nurture. Craig teaches juniors and seniors in high school. I have never seen him teach. I have never been in his classroom space. But I know that part of what he “teaches” is genuine human kindness. He told me in one of the cyber circle calls that he uses that question I used in his own classroom. One generation passing to the next, who passes it to the one that follows.
So, when Craig invited one of his students from 15 years ago, Niko, to circle, an intergenerational connection manifested and a grandstudent was born. When Niko reads so beautifully about her best friend’s suicide attempt, I can’t help but watch Craig watching her with a shared pain and clear pride. I know that I grin, though I try to contain it, whenever Queena’s 4 year old daughter Ari pops into the screen, and I walk alongside the ancestors she invokes in her work. I weep at Craig’s elegiac prose for his mother and laugh out loud at our banter, him about the Dodgers and me about the Cubs. And I wonder if others note the ease between Craig, Queena and myself as I notice the comfort between Craig and Niko. There is something tangibly powerful indeed in the exchange. When Niko wrote the other day: “Inang wika – native tongue – comes from ‘language of my parents.’” It seems that we four are speaking and writing in our own native tongue that traces back to classrooms and conversations and presence, being fully in these moments, one generation, one human being, to another.
I think about what these hours together mean, not the hours in those long ago classrooms, but these more recent ones, shared across distance, time zones, age, ethnicity, and I say to you in this moment, I say very simply with hope, that for me at least, this time (in the Hour of COVID-19) and space (2pm Cyber Circle) are essential.
Niko, Craig, Queena, and I are essential beings performing a most essential task, in our willingness to meet as human beings and strip away artifice and dare to put the innards of our hearts and the messiness of our minds down on paper and then take that leap of faith to speak those thoughts into the air and allow others to graciously receive. When 11 year old Kelema muses about how even geniuses, such as his favorite Albert Einstein, are misunderstood, are seen as different, as outside, Darrius and Charles, a generation older, nod in agreement, and the next generation beyond, in Dimitri and Johnny, recognize that young boy as a sage. When 6 year old Biju writes that she loves her mother and is grateful for all that she does, at least three generations of women acknowledge the beauty in Biju’s words, while reflecting upon their own complicated relationship to mothers and motherhood. At 2pm on any given day, Niko, Craig, Queena, and I alongside those who join, reveal the “I” we think we are in all our sublime messiness. There is hope, one generation to another, in what we risk, in what we dare.
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