Growing up is to wander a personal jungle with waterfalls, pitfalls, rain, rainbows, blooms too beautiful to name, and tigers that stalk just at the fringes. As a young adult, I was followed by a tiger clothed in dark stripes the shade of pills, peer pressure, and alcohol. Those stripes undulating like living things as it moved among the camouflage of my teen angst. My tiger seemed deadly and swift, and although I avoided my particular beast, the memory of it still causes me a kind of sharp, ivory fear. At least it did until the night of the first Saturday in November of 2015.
That was the night I found out the beast that preyed upon me had been old with teeth and claws blunted with age. More dinosaur than tiger, its danger restrained by a time when thought and communication were not, could not be synonymous as they are today. Now lines of emotion and reality are blurred by CNN, smart phones, satellites linking thoughts to action to love to hate to pleasure to hurt in an instant.
That night I sat with poets gathering to the call of Hear Here, a group that heals community at its roots and leaves, strengthening trunk and limbs through poetry. I had been invited by one of its infectious leaders, Luke, to come, join, and share. What happened was this 53 year old found himself in a room populated by teens and twenty-somethings with voices that sang and wailed and told a truth I had never been privy to.
In each poem I listened to, I discovered that the new tigers had changed and evolved. Unlike mine, they had razor like teeth and claws sharpened on vulnerabilities these young people should never have possessed, but they had come by honestly. Perhaps the result of the past wanting the future to be better and bequeathing to it freedoms, but without any guidance other than a call to live better than us. We should have known that unrestrained freedom travels with its brothers - anarchy and chaos.
The predators of these youths bear stripes painted on by brushes dipped in dank wells of image shaming, neglect, rape, labeling, gang banging, and sexuality. Brushes awash in colors provided by some dim rainbow sprung from a spectrum alien to me. And even though these young people around me sometimes shook as they spoke, still they boldly cried out inviting, invoking, and ultimately dispelling these carnivores of their souls. They were warriors reclaiming themselves through self-worth and self-definition with each line uttered. Beautiful Napoleons; young men and women, crowning themselves in the baptismal waters of creativity and expression.
For me the night was transformative. It was as if I was in attendance of a tent revival worshipping the god of words and speech. An event where this old man joined the young in robed submersion into a spiritual river to receive the holy verse. I have left that night behind me, and am still in awe, still processing the self-sacrificing/self-resurrecting acts of jungle warfare against tigers in the dark. Brave and bold voices should always leave you this way. Hear Here.