Notes from Today: A Blog

Liz Maxwell is a theatre director, producer of culture, and artistic innovator. I am passionate about the role of the artist in society, interdisciplinary collaboration, and making original work. I believe that the process and product are important, that new ideas are the life-force of society, and that the arts hold a vital role in shaping our collective future. This blog reflects musings on the evolution of theatre, reflections on the process of art-making, and committed observations on what it's like to be a human being these days.

How Do We Move On From Here? (Part 2)

Part 2 of 2: Reflections on Violence

I recently had the experience of heartbreak. I left my job, I left my friends, I left my community, I left my life. I am in a moment of great personal transition, which is exactly why I am home in New Orleans this particular week. I left all these things - and I'm still dealing with that. I'm still trying to understand what happened, and why, and my role in it, and make peace with a very complicated situation. But at this point, I definitely use the word 'violent' to describe this most recent period of my life. And at the Deep Dialogue session last week (see Part 1 of this post), when we were asked to summon up in our mind a personal experience of violence, everything about the last few months were all I could think about. 

In the session, an older black woman spoke about when she left her home at 14 years old because she had been raped and molested and beaten enough. After years of daily violence and - can you imagine? - not actually having the experience of anything different, she finally gathered the strength to walk away. She said she had no idea where she was going, but "not here" was enough of an answer to get her out the door. And I felt this huge welling up inside me as she said: "Sometimes, you just have to walk away."  And I'm embarrassed by this. I'm embarrassed to compare my first world problems to this woman's experience of being raped as a child. And yet - my emotions were genuine, and I couldn't hide that I identified with her story. 

I think this is relevant because, for me, the most important lesson I've learned from my recent experience of violence is what to do now. Because violence happens. Violence "is", in the world today. The question is what do we do with it, how do we handle it, how do we want to react when violence occurs. In my story: I left. So what. I made my choice, I "pulled the trigger", people were hurt, I was hurt - but what's done is done. NOW, I really have a choice. I can wallow in why I left. I can continue to tell a one-sided story about right and wrong. Or, I can forgive and forget. 

Forgive and Forget is a radical notion. Someone said it to me recently while I was sharing my story about my violent spring, and I was shocked and offended. I felt like this guy hadn't even listened to my story (he said if after about three minutes of conversation, when, believe me, I usually go on for hours with people about this topic) - and he was telling me to Forgive AND Forget? What a jerk. And yet - he seemed so happy. He seemed like the happiest, purest, cleanest being I had met in a long time...and subconsciously, as soon as we began speaking, I knew I had already decided to do whatever he said. 

And so...I'm struggling with this stuff. In the recesses of my mind, I still find things to be angry about. And I'm trying to allow time for myself to process and heal from this big experience, and not rush that. But I do have the sense that holding on to my pain is not harming anyone but me. And so tonight, this is what I want to say to my hometown of New Orleans as we address some very big questions of violence in the community, every day and for decades past: we have to Forgive and Forget. There are young black men who have been in prison for petty or violent crimes, and they are not going away. We cannot just wipe these people off the map and pretend like they doesn't exist. Crimes were committed, people were hurt - and we have to go forth from here. It is our best option. 

Violence may always exist. What we choose is how we react to it. So Joe pushed Bob's sister so Bob killed Joe so Joe's brother brought a gun to Bob's home. It's easy to see how that cycle of violence escalates and it seems silly that no one stopped it before things got "out of control." But the thing is, is that it doesn't stop there. So Joe's brother went to jail, and then we all decided he was a "bad man" and that he didn't deserve a second chance, and so Joe's brother believed it and when he got out he didn't have a lot of choices. And Joe saw that and decided he didn't have a lot of choices either and they both joined a gang and the cycle continues and WE - yes, we, all of us - participate in violence by accepting that this is the way it is. Or we don't. 

We enter the story any place we can. Yes, if you're Joe or Bob or Joe's brother (or Bob's sister) you need some serious, direct counseling because those actions are unacceptable. But WE ALSO, we who do not carry guns and we who "would never" push someone back have to decide that Joe and his brother aren't so different from me and my brother. We all love, we all have fear, we all want safety and holidays with family and new opportunities in our life and a better world for our kids. Do you really think there are people who don't want that? 

This isn't easy work, but it's important. We're never going to get a world from scratch, and so I'm afraid we have to transform the world we have. And the people in your life who have betrayed you or caused you pain - is it really so ridiculous to forgive, forget, and move on? Yes, another option is to cut people out of your life and never speak to them again. But ultimately, I think that's an immature solution. People make mistakes. People mess up, people mess up a lot, but they don't go away and you must find a way to make peace with your people, your community. That doesn't mean re-entering a bad situation, but even by energetically holding hate in your heart, I believe that one perpetuates violence.

We'll never get a world where no one committed a violent act, and so we have to figure out how to deal with someone when they do. We have to stop accepting that "violence is" and ask what we can do to make a change. And we have to acknowledge that we're REALLY all in this together. This is the 21st century. There are no more frontiers. There is no where else for human kind to go. We have to make do with the world we have, with whatever city we live in, with the people in our life now - and do our best. 

Look, I don't have all the answers, but I think SOME new solution is worth a try. These are just some thoughts from a Louisiana girl with all kinds of heartbreak, on another steamy night in July. If you have other ideas - I'd love to hear them.