the intersecting space

| May 12, 2014 | 4 Replies

When Cora asked me to help with Girls Group, I almost said no. For one thing, I earn money by teaching after-school yoga classes and voice lessons. Cora and her cohorts graciously offered to schedule the high school girls’ art group for my one free afternoon of the week, but I worried about missing an opportunity for paid work.

For another thing, I’m not a visual artist. I’ve taught just about all the other arts (music, theatre, a little dance), but I didn’t have expertise to contribute to a group planned around an art curriculum. Wouldn’t it make more sense to volunteer time doing something I was actually good at?

Finally, David and I had already begun to talk about leaving Wichita at the end of the school year. Why dig my roots any deeper here? I thought.

In January, a few mornings before I’d promised Cora my decision, I swam laps at the Y. As usual, the physical exertion siphoned energy from my anxious mind. With my arms gliding toward the tiled ceiling and chlorinated water swishing over my face, I let myself take a moment to imagine how it would feel to be at Girls Group. Sitting around, making art with young women? I bet I’d feel really happy.

swimming stuff

I should make more decisions while swimming. Over the past few months, few activities have refreshed my spirit the way Girls Group does. I ride my bike to Legacy House, dropping off the week’s compost on my way. We gather on mismatched couches and eat veggies and hummus, apples and peanut butter.

snacktime

We chat about school and work, the recent snowstorm or the budding trees. We take out journals and follow a poetry prompt or brainstorm the week’s art project.

journal time

Keosha expressed that she feels comfortable asking any question while she’s at Girls Group. Her sister Neo piped up: “It’s my most relaxed event of the week.”

Neo

Teaching responsibilities rotate between four adult women, so the pressure’s off us, too. Rachel is a full-time teaching assistant at a nearby elementary school. “After a long day at work, I’m able to just come, talk, and lose myself in a project.”

lost in a project

The relaxation we experience together belies the soul work that takes place once we settle around the art tables. Some of the projects challenge us to encounter our world from a new angle; others invite celebration or encourage reflection. The girls occasionally give voice to my own incredulity. “Do we have to sketch with our eyes closed?” Kenzie, the leader of that particular project, smiled sympathetically but held firm. There’s purpose and metaphor within each of the projects, and we often have to set aside our desire for competency in order to reap the benefits.

Kenzie

Recently we traced two large intersecting circles onto paper. One circle represented the world; the other represented our particular passions, responsibilities, and relationships. We used the intersecting space to brainstorm our calling: in Frederick Buechner’s words, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Looking around the table, Cora observed, “There’s a lot of depth in people’s approach to the work.”

depth

As I worked to fill the intersecting space, I realized that Girls Group has reaffirmed both my calling as a teacher and my broader purpose as a human being. Teaching isn’t about what you know; it’s about relationships and exploration. My lack of artistic credentials hasn’t hindered me but made me extra receptive to the skill and encouragement of the radiant women around me. Being a part of Girls Group did indeed dig deeper roots for me here in Wichita, but I’m not sure why I thought that would be a problem. However short my stay might be in a city, in a role, or on the planet, how better to spend time than building relationships through creative work?

my intersecting space

Toward the end of our weeks together, Kenzie began to display our artwork around Legacy House. The projects we’ve created chronicle a journey from winter to spring. The faces around me chronicle the journey from stranger to friend.

art

This plot line has played out more than once in my life. Opportunity arrives looking like obligation, and my mind strings together all the Good Reasons to say no. Thank heaven for a heart that trumps my head.

beloved women

Category: beauty, creating, friends, journey, teaching, the seasons

Hannah Lynn Mell

About the Author ()

Hannah Lynn Mell grew up a missionary kid in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Now she lives in Rowley, Massachusetts with her exquisitely kind husband David and their charming three-legged cat, Thomas. She's worked with singers since 1998 and loves to help people of all ages free their voices.

Comments (4)

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  1. Mum says:

    BRAVO!!! Hanner, I want more of that bravery myself!! So proud of you!!

  2. Doug Bowker says:

    “Opportunity arrives looking like obligation, and my mind strings together all the Good Reasons to say no. Thank heaven for a heart that trumps my head.”

    I might just have to print this one out. So true of my life too. Very often my first reaction to something new is “oh, I don’t know. Sounds like too much work. I’m not sure I’d like that.” Not always of course- but it’s too easy to hold back- but then you miss out! Loved all the circle drawings too. What a great idea!

    Thanks and gratitude as always Hannah. Hope we get to see you around soon!

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