“Change is the only constant in life.” ~ Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher
The pandemic has necessitated many changes, as evidenced by the Intergenerational Writers’ Workshop, a collaboration among volunteers brought together through the Culver City Senior Center (https://www.culvercity.org/Services/Housing-Health-Human -Services/Adult-Senior-Services/Senior-Center) and sixth-grade students at Turning Point School (https://www.turningpointschool.org/).
I’ve volunteered for this annual project since it started in 2010. Before the pandemic, there were typically six in-person meetings, four at the senior center and two at school. Now it’s all happening on Zoom, and we had a truncated version this year with four weekly 45-minute morning sessions starting Thursday, January 20 and ending February 10. Turning Point’s Josh Lesser organized the intriguing program, and Recreation and Community Services Supervisor Jill Thomsen watched as relevant information was passed on to the five senior volunteers.
Students were divided into three separate Zoom groups, each led by a teacher. Josh Lesser’s group included volunteer Marilyn Russell. Whitney Gallagher included volunteers Lee Quiring and Maggi Wright. And that of Peter Wallis, to which Marty Wisner and I were assigned, included students Liam, Kayla, Thomas, Tessa, Simone, Kaylah, Graham and Sebastian.
For our first Zoom meeting, we were all at home. For the remaining meetings, Marty and I communicated from our respective homes while Josh and the students, all in masks, gathered in the classroom.
During the first meeting, we all shared the good things that have happened to us over the past year, proving that even a pandemic can have upsides. We shared some basic information to get to know you and read a poem by Rumi, “The Guest House”, in which the human being is a guest house and the visitors are his emotions. It reminds us not to resist our thoughts and feelings, and that all of our human experience is valuable. Our mission was to write a poem based on Rumi’s metaphor.
During the second meeting, we shared our poems and I was dazzled by the creativity of the group. I wish we had room to show each poem in its entirety, but space only allows for a sprinkling of tantalizing excerpts from a few: “Human beings are like gears/The thrust of energy/Leads from one to the other. . .”; “A human being is a pool/Not just any pool/The deepest pool/The darkest pool/And sometimes/The happiest pool. . .”; and “This human being is a piece of clay/Shaping itself slowly/Every challenge gives a splinter/Every problem gives a scratch. . .”
We then read “Ode to Tomatoes” by Pablo Neruda, and while odes are classic forms of poetry that traditionally deal with big themes, Neruda chose to glorify the common tomato. Accordingly, the assignment was to write an ode to a common thing using lots of figurative language and short lines in the style of Neruda’s poem.
The odes shared by the students at our third meeting made me want to write them an ode for their wonderfully imaginative work. They found admirable qualities in simple everyday objects, including a pen, a candle, and even cereal: “Oh Pen/You are/Like the/Memories/It can/Disappear/With a/Snap.” . .”; “Oh candle I put you in a dark abyss/You’re like a blazing inferno when you’re lit/The/Ticking Timer/Of/Melting wax. . .” ; and “. . . Life is/Sweet/Like/Cap’n Crunch/
Its sugar/Run/In the/Streets/In my veins. . .”
We then read “Breathing,” a meditation poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who died in January at age 95. He was a writer, poet, teacher and peace activist, and the poem is a way of experiencing the different stages. conscious breathing. For the fourth and final meeting, we were to present our version of “Respirer”, reflecting its four-stanza format and the imagery accompanying the acts of inspiration and expiration.
Here is the opening of my meditation poem: “I breathe in/I see myself/like a new diary/with immaculate pages/waiting to be filled. . .” This workshop provided a wonderful and inspiring addition to these pages despite the audio issues I struggled with on Zoom, which were exacerbated by the muffling effect of the masks.
At this meeting, my fellow volunteer, Marty, read part of a safety poem by Don Merrell that begins “I could have saved a life that day/But I chose to look away . . .” He conveyed a powerful and excellent message, emphasizing the need to be responsible and accountable in our actions and our interactions with others.
Marty’s decision to share this particular poem didn’t surprise me. After all, he’s a former United States Public Health Service Lieutenant with a veteran designation as well as a retiree with over 45 years in the environmental health and safety/construction engineering fields. Systems Security who has spent the past 15 years at Los Angeles Air Force Base working in the area of systems security engineering supporting satellite ground control communications systems for personnel in uniform. The man knows security.
He told me that “like you, I am impressed by the caliber of students who articulate their thoughts in poetic prose and engaging personalities guided by their teacher.” During our workshop meetings, he wore many academic/professional hats and tops reflecting his career path in various positions as “it is a form of inspiration not only for the students but also applicable to the teacher . We respect all the safety needs of everyone in our life journey! »
And what a journey we’ve all been on since 2020. . .
Josh Lesser, the school contact person, told me that “we test everyone, staff and students, at least once a week, and have a system in which a grade level can be put in quarantine for a few days if there is a positive case in their cohort, but the rest of the school continues as normal.
He felt that such a pivot “is far preferable to a complete estrangement, and we manage to have a school year that is as close to normal as possible. Yes, we wear masks and have open windows and doors and regular testing on campus, but students can take their electives, play sports, take study trips, and we even plan our spring trips. for the college, which we were unable to do in 2020 and 2021. Our faculty and staff are committed to providing the best academic year possible while ensuring everyone’s safety and health, and students have is doing an amazing job of adapting to this new normal.
And this volunteer is also doing her best to adapt. Even with the hearing challenges, I’m thrilled the school has chosen to continue the intergenerational program via Zoom. Although it is now quite different from the pre-pandemic meetings where each group sat around a table and we really got to know each other, I am very grateful that it has continued and sad that it is over for this year. I remember a poem by Crystal Ruth that ends with “all good things must come to an end”. But I console myself, knowing that the workshop will return next year, and whatever form it takes, I will ride with it.
Why? Because I find the poems intelligent, inspiring, entertaining and thoughtful. Such creativity needs to be shared with a wider audience, and I would love to see the school publish a collection of poems by students. As many are artists, it could also be illustrated. Also, perhaps the school could consider a special spoken word assembly or poetry slam. The talent is definitely there, and although our very knowledgeable and caring teacher, Peter Wallis, was kind enough to tell Marty and me that “your kindness and wisdom are much appreciated”, this experience has also allowed us to learn from students.
Long live intergenerational synergy!