contributed by Lisa Rodondi
This time last week, I was in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon exhausted after a long drive up from California but also excited about the inaugural Shelter to Shelter/ Traveling Postcards workshop scheduled for the next day. My unfamiliar surroundings and thoughts of the much anticipated workshop at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence kept me awake. So I chose to think of some things I was grateful for such as the time I spent with Caroline that day, our deep conversations, and getting to Portland safely. These thoughts lulled me to sleep.
Meeting with Juliette and Caroline the next morning discussing how to facilitate the workshop, gently and mindfully selecting the postcards to be given to the participants, and even praying did not fully prepare me for the emotional marathon I experienced during and after the 4 hour workshop. Gratitude, humility, appreciation, sadness, frustration, compassion, forgiveness, anxiety, joy, love and connection. These are some of the feelings I had. Needless to say, I was absolutely wiped out by the end of the session. The silence, the sharing while creating, and the nodding gave me a sense of belonging to the brave women who took the courageous step to change their lives. I heard the women say “I have power because I have choices”, “I am emerging”, “I keep silent and listen to God”, ” I focus on this moment”. These powerful words of wisdom were expressed not only in the written form but also as the specifically chosen colors and art materials used to handcraft the beautiful postcards.
I heard with my ears but I also heard with my heart. The most impactful story for me is the one I call “Mama and Baby”. There was one woman, whom I’ll call Mama, who did not speak English. She had a two year old daughter, whom I’ll call Baby, with her. A babysitter was not on site that day, so Baby was present at the workshop. As we started the postcard making part of the workshop, Mama was focused on choosing her art materials and Baby was curious about the art supplies and wanted to participate too. Baby was happy to scribble scrabble on the paper I gave her and was delighted with her artwork. Baby looked over at Mama and called out to her “Mama! Mama! Mama!” but Mama did not pay attention to her. Baby continued to cry out “Mama!” for some time, escalating her tone of voice but Mama still did not acknowledge her. Finally Baby started screaming, louder and louder until Mama came over and held her. This sequence of events occurred repeatedly during the entire workshop. This pattern of dysfunctional behavior in a relationship – Baby screaming to get acknowledged by Mama and Mama tuning out Baby until she was screaming at the top of her lungs- saddened and frustrated me. But finally realizing that this pattern of behavior was most likely a result of the difficult circumstance that Mama had to endure before coming to the shelter filled me with compassion for Mama and Baby. Mama was probably on survival mode and doing her very best to take care of herself and Baby that at times she didn’t have any mental bandwidth left to give Baby the attention that she craved and needed. And of course Baby resorted to the unhealthy behavior because it resulted in fulfilling her needs, acknowledgement from Mama. This illustrated for me the insidious nature and far reach of domestic violence. The ripple effect of domestic violence could be
multigenerational. The possibility of the legacy of this dysfunctional relationship between Mama and Baby saddened me. But the fact that Mama chose to come to the shelter and the fact that shelters existed for women like Mama gave me hope that the toxic touch of domestic violence could be mitigated.
Every Traveling Postcards workshop I attend reaffirms my belief that art is empowering and has the transformative power to heal, not only the maker but also the receiver. This was evident in the smiling faces of the women who held up their postcards proudly for Caroline to take a portrait photo of them with their art. When the women were invited to choose a Traveling Postcard someone had made for them, they expressed their gratitude and appreciation. The energy of love and connection in the room was palpable.
My participation as a Traveling Postcards facilitator for Shelter to Shelter was motivated by my desire to be of service to others affected by domestic violence by giving them access to the transformative power of art to heal especially when art is created in the spirit of service. An unexpected gift for me was that this journey ended up being a healing journey for myself, an amazing blessing of self discovery and so many spiritual awakenings. Once again, I say “Thanks be to God for bringing Traveling Postcards into my life”
Peace be with you.
In gratitude and with love, Lisa