The second annual Hour Children Music Camp is upon us.
There are so many things to talk about this year on our second day. First of all, we have the most incredible volunteers from Trinity congregation and staff, singers from Leadership High School, our own Trinity choristers, and friends from the neighborhood. We have had wonderful musicians give short afternoon concerts, hilarious games, angelic child-singing, and moments that remind one vaguely of any number of post-apocalyptic films from the 80’s.
Instead I will talk about stickers.
One of our key tools in camp are sticky, metallic stars. (I maintain that they are magic.) We use them to award campers who are focused and participating but especially when they are kind and understanding with others. For us, this is what singing together is all about. Every child who receives a star sticks it onto his or her name tag and we tell them exactly what the star is for. It also gets the teachers focused on what the kids are doing well which helps everyone feel lighter in a week that can be chaotic at times. I know this. I’ve explained it to teachers, and volunteers, and visitors. It’s something we do at camp.
When Ms. Dolores, a Trinity parishioner and retired teacher, came to read to the children after lunch, she called me over. “Bring me some of these stars,” she said. I immediately ran to bring her some (as would you, my friend.) She immediately handed one to Maya saying, “This is for sharing your book and your seat so nicely.” Now, of course, we want the children to sing well at the concert but this kindness thing, it’s important. The children around Ms. Dolores were those who often find it hard to focus during rehearsals and yet sat with the utmost interest and attention. I took some pictures but mostly I just watched in awe.
Later, on the train home, I saw a man step out of a young person’s way, making more room amidst the martial law of rush hour on the NYC subway. “That was so nice of him”, I thought. This happened at the same time as another man elbowing past me but I didn’t notice as much since I was fishing in my purse for my stars. It took my brain a moment to realize I couldn’t give a stranger a child’s award sticker without seeming a little off. Regardless, it was a good moment. Noticing the good in people did, in fact, change the quality of my commute. Imagine what it could do for the rest of my life.
Be wary of what you try to teach young people because you will end up learning it yourself.
Which is the point, of course.
Over the past two months, the nation has been watching Lower Manhattan as hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of protesters claimed Zuccotti Park to make their voices heard. During the first days of the protest, we saw an influx of young people with laptops looking for Wi-Fi and power. It was a gentle upsweep for a week while the protest secured its hold on the park. We went from 50-80 guests/day to 80 to 100. Exciting but manageable.
Then the floods began. After a couple of weeks we were seeing 200-300 guests/day and that number hasn’t slacked since. What shifts most from week-to-week is the make-up of that population in a symbiotic ebb and flow with the events in the park. Until the raid on the park, we saw hundreds of laptops streaming in looking for outlets (I jokingly referred to this as Snakes on a Plane) and began to expand our offerings, the number of available outlets, and our commitment to keeping the space open to all without favoring any particular agenda.
How did we do this? We asked that all meetings over 5 people happen in the CP conference room (which was scheduled continuously throughout the day.) We asked our new friends to invite others to share their table and keep the chairs faced to tables as opposed to scattered about the space at random. How did we come up with these things? One of us—me, Molly, or a volunteer—would simply ask ourselves what it would be like to walk through the door for the first time. Does it feel friendly? Could I easily find a place to sit? Did someone say hello to me?
Beautiful offerings began to line up. Community organizers from OWS began volunteering in the space to greet newcomers, orient people to our mission (unconditional welcome! Everything free! Be nice!), and help keep the bathrooms clean. Josh Tysinger, from Church of the Advocate in Asheville, NC, flew up to New York to experience OWS and volunteer at Charlotte’s Place. He offered pastoral care, perspective, a friendly face, and made great connections with our existing staff of volunteers. Although exhausting, the flow was still manageable and allowed us to test our mettle against sheer, raw numbers.
I also noticed how long it takes folks to adjust to our ethic. Very often, guests would come in angry (Occupiers who’d had a bad morning, neighbors who were tired of the protest, kids who missed the space to spread out.) Over and over, I see how hard we are on one another, on our resources, on the patience and love of those who care for us. But these same angry guests (who would occasionally yell at me “who are you to tell me to move my chair!”, “kick this guy out, he smells!”, “There should be more, outlets, food, space, chairs, etc.”) would come in later and apologize or help someone else in the space understand how to care for a gift freely given.
And then Zuccotti Park was raided. There were controversies and recriminations and tears and trauma.
For a week, we stepped back from some usual rules. We allowed sleeping in the space and offered the kitchen as a way to get food to people who had come to count on the Kitchen Working Group. It was a rough week. I broke up a fight on the sidewalk, fielded concerns from our neighbors, and debriefed with exhausted volunteers. But we were okay. Many volunteers surfaced to help us keep the peace and friends we’d made in the movement helped keep me informed of why we were seeing the fallout—young people who’d left their precarious situations at home far away to take part in OWS without a way to return home, some who had been pepper-sprayed and beaten, some struggling to maintain their health against the coming winter.
That, too, shifted. Last week, we decided to pull in the reins a bit. Clear the floors. Bring some balance back to the space. It was a noble effort that was not well received by our 100 guests who were exhausted, hungry, angry, and wounded. More and more people came into the space to give “mic checks” (which is not part of our culture at CP) and scuffles were continually breaking out over the public computers. In a controversial move, I closed the space early on Tuesday, 11/22 and remained closed for the holiday.
So why did Charlotte's close for the holiday? What was different on Tuesday from the past two months?
If you have ever spent a few hours at CP, you may have noticed how the energy of two or three people can change the tone of the space. Normally, people can be brought back from an aggressive entrance or disrespectful stance. But Tuesday brought a volume of ire and stress we couldn’t calm. I went so far as to ask a few people to leave so they could collect themselves and calm down. They all refused. I had two options, close the space or call the police. I would rather calmly ask people to leave than potentially put everyone in harm’s way.
Charlotte's has received an outpouring of support from friends at OWS in mediation, info, and ethics and spirituality (one of these days I’ll make myself a flow chart of the working groups.) Today, we opened again. I believe in what we’re trying to do: offer safe space for unconditional welcome and foster an environment where people can step outside their comfort zones.
Challenge is how we grow.
Unconditional love does not just happen. It is like trying to get a breath at the bottom of the ocean. It only exists if we put it there ourselves. The culture of ease and welcome at Charlotte’s Place will only continue if we put it there ourselves.
What is the responsive version of outreach?
This question has been on my mind over the past few weeks. As anyone who has visited recently will have immediately noticed, Charlotte’s Place has been full! We’ve had the busiest weeks of our existence in the last month, as the Occupy Wall Street protesters (“occupiers” in the common parlance) have used Charlotte’s Place to take a break from Zuccotti Park for rest, planning, e-mail, and laptop charging. They have been joined by our CP regulars and by a host of others who have come to try to support, educate, argue with, or observe them, from tourists to Wall Street workers, to visiting professors.
None of these, obviously, were on the list of people who we thought we were going to serve at Charlotte’s place (equally obviously, “open to all” means just that, and there was never a thought that we might turn them away). What we’ve tried to do is what we always do, which is attempt to serve the needs of whoever is here. So I’ve found myself asking what Charlotte’s Place means for our new guests. We are not in the business of endorsing or deriding their message, but rather in the business of making them feel welcome and encouraging them during their visits away from stridency and insularity and towards peaceful contemplation—in short, treating them exactly the same way we treat everyone who walks in the door.
Having so many visitors has meant a busy conference room schedule, extra work keeping the space nice (and occasionally reminding an exhausted occupier that Charlotte’s Place is not necessarily for napping.) It’s also meant a great opportunity to capture the huge number of guests with extra programming—last week saw Father Mark hosting a panel discussion of some of the protest leaders, as well as the launch of an ambitious program of daily music events. We have a panel this Wednesday about opening to the other (be it Occupy Wall Street or Wall Street) called “Unlikely Allies” and a meditation on Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg at 3pm on Thursday.
The lesson is that Charlotte’s Place is constantly defined and re-defined by who walks in the door. This is the paradox. As new visitors populate Charlotte’s Place, we have to shift our style of welcome to remain true to our sense of unconditional openness and hospitality. Change to stay the same. Charlotte’s Place is not so much programmed as it is occupied—not in the sense used by the protestors (as in a military occupation), but in its older and more common definition, as in the way one occupies a house. The question is: Who is here now, what do they need, and how can they be the new first line of welcome for those walking in the door.
And so I invite you to come see what we’re up to—we’ll have concerts at 2pm every weekday until 10/28, a roomful of lower-Manhattanites old and new, permanent and temporary—and together we will inhabit Charlotte’s Place.
With all our origami, soothing music, and meditations, there are ways in which we haven’t quite experienced the extent of the energy surge going on in our immediate vicinity. Until yesterday. It’s nothing I can pinpoint directly but there was a little inherent disorder and confusion that crept in. There were more tears and more urgency driving those tears.
The simplest thing—origami, quiet time with Alison in the meditation room, and Lovingkindness with Sharon Salzberg—brought us back time and again.
I have followed Sharon’s work for a long time. Her ability to ground her teachings in real life, in the messy, practical daily-ness, has brought me back to her work again and again. She told a story (originally by the esteemed teacher, Robert Thurman) that goes like this. Imagine you are on a crowded subway train. (I imagined the 8:30am 4 train—New Yorkers, are you feeling me?) Now imagine that Martians (I imagine the green ones from the 70’s) beam into the train and hit everyone with a special ray gun that means that everyone on that subway train will be together FOREVER.
Outside St. Paul's Chapel, 9.8.11
This tenth anniversary is going to amplify the New York experience. There were be great music and art, the kind of crowding that makes me feel for cattle, and kindness popping up just when we were sure our humanity had finally drained away for good. Now imagine that we will all be here together forever. Will we be softer with one another? More aware of the consequences for the irritated quips, passive aggressive sighs, and outbursts than we might normally be?
One idea from her talk stood out for me about what connects us all on this crowded city subway called Earth. "Our vulnerability should be the thing that brings us closer than anything because we all share that."
My Deepest hope for Charlotte’s Place in the next few days is that we can be a place for people to be vulnerable, to be real, to come down from the narrative even if just for a moment.
A few minutes ago a family—Mom, Dad, and toddler—came in to play and rest between events. Our volunteer Craig is here, too, with his four-year old daughter Jolie. I just looked up for a moment from blogging and the young Mom was sitting with Jolie, reading her one of the children’s books from our bookshelf. It’s a simple kindness. It’s not going to end world hunger, or heal everyone who’s grieving, or take back the events of ten years ago. But for me, in this moment, it’s enough.
Keeping hours at Charlotte’s Place this week means I will miss many of the amazing events taking place downtown. I was feeling a little down about this for about 2 minutes this afternoon until in came Susan who told me about her beautiful experience at Bach @ One. And then Bernadine arrived to volunteer for welcome hours and told me about writing prayers for grieving families for the Ribbon Project. And then Ryan did a tour before he was off to see Krista Tippett at St. Paul’s Chapel. I kind of love experiencing the week this way, filtered through hearts and minds of the people moved by them.
But even before all that my day was quite full.
First, the conference room needed a new identity. I brought two pieces of fabric from home (one sent to me by a friend in India and the other from Argentina), four candles, and two small vases of white flowers. Lastly, I borrowed Adam Alexander’s floor lamp from his office at Music and the Arts. It was quite a scene—I felt the need to tell everyone I passed that I had permission as I dragged the lamp onto he elevator. It really is a nice lamp. Then I grabbed the red cushions we use for family movie night and we were good to go.
No one quite ventured all the way into the quiet room. Mostly people stood in the door and said, “Oh, it’s so nice in here,” the way one would if they were riding a high-speed train through beautiful country. No matter. Allison from PSI (http://www.mindlife.org), who does fantastic guided meditations will be in at 3pm on Wednesday. Who’s with me?
But my favorite part of the day was the unplanned origami party at 2:45pm. At around 2:30, a couple of guests and volunteers were struggling to fold their first cranes based on slightly unclear directions I’d printed out. Sensing craft need, Muriel left the flag for a moment to intervene. Suddenly there were 8 people around the small table—the one with the comfy orange chairs—making crane after crane. Ok, there might have been a couple of ducks at first and my own initial attempts were suspiciously pre-historic—think pterodactyl—but all are welcome at Charlotte’s Place, after all.
Molly Quinn, soprano in the Trinity Choir and dear friend to Charlotte’s Place, kept sneaking looks at me and giggling.
“What?” I said, after this had gone on for a couple of cranes.
She shook her head. “I love how your plan for the week is soothing music and origami.”
When not rescuing us from failed Crane attempts, Muriel and Al (who has been instrumental in supporting flag construction: Yay, Al!) worked on the flag, inviting all our visitors to take part. I think we wound up with a dozen new hands from first-time CP visitors.
Have I mentioned how huge this flag is?
It’s, like, really big.
Between hand tracings and fabric donation, over a hundred people have been involved in its construction from New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Massachusetts, 10 countries in Africa, India, Bali, among others, not to mention the handmade pieces.
The flag reminds me so much of Charlotte’s Place. It’s free. It’s inclusive. It’s unconventionally beautiful. And some of the hands are backwards and upside-down. Hey, that’s just how we roll.
And still, with all this lightness, it’s not to forget the time of grief this is for so many. Listening to NPR yesterday morning over toast and tea, I found myself in tears. “Oh, no!” I thought, “It’s only Tuesday. How am I going to get through the rest of the week?”
Soothing music and origami.
Come and get it.
Downtown has changed in the past ten years.
And I don’t just mean that it’s become more residential (which it has) or that it’s been a constant site of construction (that, too) or lost its swagger (which it hasn’t.) The upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11 gives us a chance to mark the changes (the actual physical changes and the more illusive internal ones) and approach this time in a new way, from a new perspective.
So, what does this year’s 9/11 remembrance hold in store for us downtown? Most certainly, in addition to sheer volume of people, we will be dealing with “anniversary effect” times ten--maybe even to the power of ten. "The Anniversary Effect", or an anniversary reaction, may be defined as upsetting behavior, reactivation of symptoms, and/or distressing dreams that occur on an anniversary of a significant experience. At Charlotte’s Place, I see it surfacing in beauty, surprise, anxiety, anger, the full compliment, the full monty, or, as Father Mark Buzzuti-Jones would call it, the fullness.
One of the things I love about working at Charlotte’s Place at this moment is the opportunity to enjoy a small window of objectivity. This is not because I am a particularly wise being (ahem) but because I get to hear from a wide variety of people their worries, complaints, hopes, and deep fears regarding this year’s planned commemoration and so I see patterns emerge. First of all, almost everyone I talk to has a wish for healing—for themselves, for families broken by the attacks, for the war that came out of it. Conversely, almost everyone has someone they think does not belong here that week (and certainly not that day!) Tourists, I must say, take the biggest hit. Protesters, the second. Some say children should stay home. From my vantage, this is all of a piece (if not of a peace.)
The attacks of that day exposed deep vulnerability. This is reality. We are vulnerable folks here on earth, it is our gift as well as the source of our troubles and people are drawn to tragedy not just out of bleak fascination but also (I believe) out of an unconscious desire to know more about what it means to be a human being.
On 9/11, prepare to be surprised.
I remember trudging to the Vietnam Memorial when I was a teenager because it was on the list of “stuff I was supposed to see in DC” and ended up sitting on my butt in front of all those names and crying. This year, I’m willing to bet there will be more than a few tourists with their cameras dangling limp at their sides, in tears. Some people who were here that day will feel torn apart again and some will feel whole for the first time in years. None of these people will have known that morning that this is how they would feel in the afternoon.
Trinity is offering beautiful, voluminous programming that week. There will be music helping us deepen and transform our experience. There will be a live taping of “On Being” at St. Paul’s Chapel, skillful and moving liturgies, and ways to remember those we loved and lost.
At Charlotte’s Place, in addition to our events, we are offering a space for reflection, an opportunity to let the experience filter and settle. Here’s how we’re doing that:
· Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute is providing counselors for the space all week for anyone who might need a skilled ear. (This includes staff, volunteers, tourists, protesters, clergy, the homeless, the wealthy, and those in the throes of adolescence, etc.) Some of the counselors will be offering guided meditations in the conference room the timing of which we’ll post on our chalkboard, fb, and twitter.
· We will offer small journals for people to take and use to record and sort through their experience. They will be blank paper so you can use them for drawing, too.
· One table in the space will be covered in origami paper and instructions so visitors can fold cranes. (The Japanese tradition is to fold 1,000 cranes for peace. Also, detailed work with hands helps calm the engage the mind.)
· Dr. Westina Matthews Shatteen will be here from 10am-2pm on Saturday, (9/10) to offer guided meditation and spiritual direction for any who might seek it.
To keep a peaceful space in the midst of the confluence of emotions that will walk through our doors that week, we will be closed Friday, 9/2 through Monday 9/5. This will give us an opportunity to prepare the space, our hearts, and our minds for the increase of visitors and heightened emotions. We will open our doors again on Tuesday, 9/6 at 11am and offer extended hours all week. (11am-7pm as opposed to our usual Noon to 6pm.) We will also be open on Saturday from 10am-2pm and on Sunday from Noon to 7pm.
Come and sit with us, talk to us, fold, draw, and write with us. Come as you are.
Author: Jennifer Chinn
Created: March 29, 2011
Charlotte’s Place is a free gathering space open to anyone in Lower Manhattan. At Charlotte’s Place, you make the space with whatever you want to do. Come draw on the wall, water the plants, eat your lunch, attend an art workshop, listen to music, read a book, use the free wi-fi, watch a movie, or whatever else comes to mind. Charlotte’s Place is open to all and free to use. This blog is managed by Jenn Chinn, program manager at Charlotte’s Place, with contributions from the Charlotte’s Place community.
Charlotte's Place is located at 109 Greenwich Street, between Rector and Carlisle Streets. It is open from 12-2pm Monday-Friday (bring your lunch!) and for events.
Want to share your recent experience at Charlotte's Place? E-mail Jenn at email@example.com
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