STATEMENT ARTS- "The World Art Project"

The World Art Project blog is a forum dedicated to helping Katrina Victims share the experience and journey of a group of Professional Actors, Singers and Performers who traveled to the Gulf Coast to help uplift the spirits of those surviors. Our hope is to provide insight, knowledge and offer way for readers to get involved and help in forms of Donations, support or expression of opinions and feelings.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lazarus' Eyes

I kept hearing the comment, "the pictures just don't do it." As photographer I pointedly decided not to take my camera on tour. It was time to act on a credo I hold so dear to my heart, "It is not the program, it is the relationship! As I process through my soul the experiences of the last week of my life I can't get past one thing, her eyes.

I remember as a child, my mother/aunt taking me to all sorts of places to sing in the church choir. There weren't many of us and often we would sing after some inspiring or semi-professional choir. But African American churches are very forgiving! We would sway and sing and clap and sing while the audience jumped to its feet. They too began to sway and sing and clap and sing assuring us that they had once been there. Assuring us that we were the best choir of the day because we weren't trying, we were just singing our hearts out.

If it weren't for moments like that over thirty years ago I would not have been standing in Slidell, LA on 16th of December. The roles had changed, here I was in the "professional choir" from New York City feeling a wellspring inside of me as the music track of a Black church's Chrismas favorites floated in the air. Over that soundtrack was the unmistaken voices of children singing their hearts out mingling and intertwining with their adult counterparts. As we ran from the bus to prepare to sing and our group stopped to ready ourselves, I kept running around to the front to be bathed in this choir's sounds and inspiration.

And then I heard a familiar lyric, "Hark the herald angels sing," followed by, "Jesus the light of the world." My heart warmed, my voice involuntarily hummed, my body swayed and my hands started coming together in a familiar rhythm--clapping to the beat of the song. I was back in church--six years old singing one of my favorite songs from our hymnal "Jesus The Light Of The World." I liked it because we could finally clap to a Christmas Carol as kids! This choir was showering me with memories, comfort, familiarity and joy. I looked at the people looking at me, smiled at the people smiling at me. The members of the World Art Project had caught the fire and were clapping and swaying telling this choir to "sing on!".

It was then I realized, this was the only concentrated group of African Americans I had been in the company of during our entire tour. Then I saw her eyes. She was of dark complexion, 5 or 6 years old. She was standing between a teenager and an older woman. At first I didn't notice that she kept looking to each of them in turn for reassurance, holding the pant leg of each in turn. I thought it might be stage fright but for her eyes . . . Her hair had been straightened not by a relaxer but by a straightening comb heated in fire, her scalp greased well. You could tell because the hair close to the scalp had been gingerly straightened and the ends weren't as straight as the rest of the hair. It had been pulled back into a ponytail. There were stray hairs escaping from either temple. The coat she wore to keep out the chill fit just right. The kind of just right that tells a momma it won't fit next week this time. The kind of just right a momma knows will keep just enough chill out in the night air.

But her eyes . . . almond eyes of black strictly bordered by white. Her eyebrows ever so slightly burrowed above the bridge of the nose. She had the eyes of Lazarus. Eyes that registered being left alone in a dark and scary place. The only place in our world that is not familiar. What Lazarus would call inside the tomb. The eyes of a child not quite believing the Christmas lights on the trees in a park where a few months ago there had only been water. Her eyes would continue to look for reassurance from that adult and teenager she stood between even as she left them to come onstage and sing with us. She was not scared to be away from them. There was an invisible rope between her and them. She knew they wouldn't let her go, they hadn't before. Her eyes made my heart weep and I wondered what the story was behind her eyes.

Then I found out. Like so many others her town had been flooded and destroyed. There was little if anything left she, her family and friends could call their own. But there was one difference from her perspective. You see in her little community as rescue workers descended to help, save and sadly count the dead no one came. For seven days her town, she her family and friends were written off as casualties of the storm. You see from the beginning no one could find a way into the town the report was that there was no town. For seven days the girl with Lazarus' eyes holed up in a town while water lapped and splashed. For seven days and nights out of a short life of 5 or 6. Thankfully a newsreporter from the town asked the question, 'How come I can't find anything out about my hometown?'. Armed with a camera crew and some rescue workers they finally found a way. That is the story she told with her eyes.

December 16th in Griffith Park, Slidell, LA it is no wonder the choir sang, "We'll walk in the light, beautiful light, come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright. Shine all around us by day and by night. Jesus the light of the world."



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