Gratitude and Grieving: How To Give Thanks And Remember
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Gratitude and Grieving: How To Give Thanks And Remember

Reflections on poetry, mentors, podcasts, and loss.

Gratitude and Grieving: How To Give Thanks And Remember
canpan blog

Like rock bands, but with a much simpler stage set up - one mic - spoken word poets are sweeping the web and it might just be the most exciting thing to happen to the nation since punk rock.

On Wednesday, October 19th, Sarah Kay, Andrea Gibson, and Andrea Gibson’s dog Squash, took on the Northampton Academy of Music and sprinkled a little magic on an auditorium packed with college kids in desperate need of a midterm week pick-me-up.

For 2 hours, we lent our ears to the striking presence of Sarah Kay, floating about with an awkward sort of charm about her; and the powerhouse that is Andrea Gibson, stunning in all their androgynous presence and exactly the independent spirit the world needs more of. They waded through sticky topics with a sensitivity and self-awareness most can only strive for. They held our hands through the maze that is our being, and when we have lost ourselves in the core of our experiences; they touch us. Lightly. But it reverberates through skin and bone and every fiber. We gave them our time, and they did not take this for granted.

The pair showed us vulnerability. By being scared to read a poem, or tell a story, and then doing it anyway. And, if flustered, they stumble and have to start again, well then so be it. Their presence was not that of idols or gods, but simple humans reminding us there is always a space to be unapologetically yourself. To comfort by sharing, and to love by listening.

They showed us laughter, as they looked at each other, as if to say, “I can’t believe we’re telling this story to a roomful of strangers,” then proceeding to share a poem dedicated to the person who broke into their rented car and, perhaps looking for something valuable, instead found a vibrator.

They surprised us with a little treat in the form of Mary Lambert, her brilliant acoustics brushing complements with their poems.

It was 120 minutes of heartbreaking then mending then breaking then mending, and at the end of her set, Sarah takes the time to thank Andrea. It was at 14 years old, swept by Andrea's surging words, that Sarah Kay first started with spoken word poetry. Fast forward 15 odd years, and she is traveling the country, sharing a stage and a rental car with one of her biggest influences (and their dog). In dedicating her final poem to her elementary school principal, Mrs. Ribiero, Kay invites the audience to do the same in taking time out of our days to thank our mentors.

Mrs. Ribiero is her greatest inspiration as an educator. Ribiero would as easily give time to a 5 as a 35 year old. “Sorry dear," she'd say,

We'll have to reschedule,
I have to see someone else about a very important matter.
It’s about a gold star.
It’s about a new diorama.
It’s about a finished read book
one level higher than last time.

As anyone who has at any point in their life been a child can tell you, having a space where you feel important, where you feel like your opinion matters, is the greatest gift anyone can grant you.

Curling up in bed at the end of the night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my second grade Chinese teacher, Mr. Liao. His humor and liveliness turned the class everyone dreaded into the the most exciting. The years we would have him as a teacher were the only years most of us could confidently tell you exactly what we’ve learned.

He died before I got to properly thank him. If you’ve seen Jakarta traffic, you’d know it’s something nobody wants to be around. Cars clog the street, motorbikes weave through them like 5-year-olds slipping through a crowd in a game of Ninja. Less than a mile away from my elementary school campus, he falls victim to a collision with a car. An ambulance arrives on the scene and speeds him to the hospital, but as you can probably imagine from that description of Jakarta roads, it wasn’t a very speedy endeavor. Miraculously, however, he arrives at the hospital still breathing. And yet, despite the obvious internal bleeding and brain damage, when he got to the hospital, he was offered no treatment. We all know that surgery isn’t cheap, but in an emergency situation, you’d think that they’d put that aside for a minute and focus on gee, I don’t know, saving a person’s life. But that’s exactly what didn’t happen.

The school he worked for, a for-profit institution, upon being contacted by the hospital, declined covering his health expenses since the accident technically happened outside of campus grounds.

It happened less than a mile from school grounds, it happened on his way to work, and all they could do was hold up their palms and say, “Sorry, we can’t help.”

When parents and faculty found out, they pooled together the money and paid for it. I’d like to point out that, as all this is happening, he lays injured and on the brink of death in a hospital room. By the time they finished the surgery, Mr. Liao's brain damage had worsened, and he never woke up.

This happened back in 2012, and to this day, students, family, friends, and coworkers alike carry this injustice. Many still post to his Facebook wall as a way of speaking to him

"I still miss you."

Happy birthday dad!

"Last week was another PTC (Parent-Teacher’s Conference) without you... I felt something is missing without your nice greeting in the morning, and lots of food you always brought for me..."

A black and white photo with the caption. "kenangan yg indah," beautiful memories.

Many were from his students, writing to him in Chinese. It was their way of thanking him, and saying "Look how much I’ve learned. This was you. You taught me this."

It was a strange experience, to scroll through his Facebook page and think about the ways we try to communicate with those no longer here. Facebook posts as a means of communicating with the dead was not unique to his situation. I see this constantly with family and friends who have passed, people reminding their loved ones that they are not forgotten.

It reminds me of aThis American Life episode Really Long Distance. The podcast features audio clips from the NHK documentary The Phone of the Wind: Whispers to Lost Families, about a telephone booth in Japan overlooking the ocean in Otsuchi Town. Five years ago, this region was devastated by the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake. A man named Itaru, who had lost family to the disaster bought an old-fashioned telephone booth and stuck it in his garden. This telephone is connected to nowhere, but over the years grievers have traveled here from all over the island to “call” family members lost during the 2011 disaster.

Some speak to their loved ones them casually, giving them updates on their life.

Hi Grandpa. How are you? I’ll be in 4th grade next semester, isn’t that fast?

Others find ways to say "I love you" in a culture where bluntness is not customary. They show their concern by asking how their loved ones are doing; if they’re eating right; if they’re warm. They remind the dead they are still loved, still remembered.

Hello? Mom? Where are you? It’s so cold. But you’re not getting cold, are you? Are grandma and our daughter with you too? Come back soon. Be found soon. Everyone is waiting for you. I’ll build a house in the same place. Eat something, anything. Just... be alive. Somewhere. Anywhere.
I’m so lonely.

I'd like to second Sarah's request in thanking our mentors. This can be any teacher, friend, or stranger who has ever recommended a book, a song, a piece of art; who has given their time and added another penny to your jar of thought; who has pointed towards a new perspective and said, "This is water. Drink this." Who has believed in you enough to spend the time to listen to what you have to say, commenting honestly on it. Who has inspired you. I never got to properly thank Mr. Liao and say goodbye while he was alive. But, at the very least, in his memory I can dedicate this poem.

All That Happens In a Year

You are 16 in Sri Lanka
and the other girls are teaching you a game they learned at summer camp
so what you would do is.. everyone gathers around you in a circle
and you’d look up at the stars – this had to be done at night, you see –
and they would spin you.. and they would spin you
and you would spin as fast as you can
until the stars blended into each other
and then somebody shines a flashlight in your face
and the next thing you know you’re on the floor
except you don’t remember falling

And this is how you find yourself at 17,
Waking up some mornings without a memory of falling asleep
Giving birth some nights to something you don’t remember loving.

In the back corner of lounge bars,
half-listening to whatever distraction you have planned for yourself that day,
Being brushed off as undeveloped doesn’t even surprise you anymore
You have always been, and always will be too young to understand
At least, when you do say something even remotely intelligent
your age makes it just that much more impressive.

You remember being 13 when, shortly after your move to Singapore
You hear that your 2nd grade chinese teacher got hit by a car.
Mr. Liao was still alive when the ambulance shuttled into the hospital
But the doctors didn’t want to perform the operation
until they could guarantee getting paid.
And so the school he’d given 20 years of his pulsing mind to
shrugged and said, it didn’t happen on campus.
Of course, you don’t remember saying goodbye to him.
And as you walked into your new school the next day,
top-rated facilities squirming with the well-spoken and overseas educated
you are weighted with a new distrust of institution.

You’re not an angry person
But recently you’ve found yourself curling into a facade of temper
Wrists, locked in iron
You write to hold on to this anger -
that is so much more tangible than the emptiness that follows
You are well acquainted with the shackles
These evenings, watching your father shake his fist
at rocks who have long turned their backs on him
You are reminded that everything is institution.
So the next time you find yourself on the ground, and you don’t remember falling,
you might remember this:

You are 17, and it’s 1am, the night before an exam
But all thoughts of revision have made themselves scarce
Instead, your head is on your best friend’s lap.
Having just agreed to give the eulogy at each other’s funerals
And now deciding if a joke about dying before Bernie Sanders would be pushing it.
You laugh at the thought of death,

because what else is youth good for?

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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