In 1994 after I went to India with Fran Peavey and a group of social change activists and artists, Fran got the idea to take a group of women to the former Yugoslavia which was in the midst of a terrible war amongst the people and lands of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Old animosities, religious differences and borders could no longer be managed and war began to break the whole region apart.
It continued for some years with many deaths, massacres and genocides and brought about the break up of families and whole regions.
There is no way for me to express the complex nature of the conflict. Every side was tortured by this war.
Into this morass of difficulty came The Doves, this group of women, social change activists and artists once again.
We traveled through each country where we gave group workshops in refugee camps and did performances in cities where the evidence of war was everywhere.
We were sponsored and supported by a group called Women in Black, an internationally named group that was nonviolent and stood for peace in public squares and in all the other ways they could imagine. Incredibly brave women on every side of the conflict.
Our workshops were often quite large. The brokenness of the people was obvious, but they loved art of all kinds and were somehow able to arrive, participate, and brought their sadness, their stories, their songs, their dances, their drawings, their words, even their laughter. Surely we were given way more than we were able to give. Each workshop threw us into territory we had no way of understanding, but this human condition, the grave instability of the culture, was powerfully held by music, dance, theater, drumming, painting, all of that.
I will never forget how real these moments were. There was nothing to do but be present, not disappear into tragedy or fear.
If they could do it, surely we could too.
I can still see faces and remember certain moments of the group workshops where we all lifted out of misery into something whole.
The performances were often in burned out galleries or empty theaters. Every performance was packed. The eagerness of the people to experience artistic expression was enormous. It was like food. What an inspiration to realize how much they needed and loved art. How ancient was their connection to all these forms. We had this in common even though we could barely speak to one another across language.
Much of our performance was improvised. That was critical because who could understand this spontaneous work better than people who had been running for their lives, leaving everything behind.
I could barely take in what I was feeling. Our group tried each day to talk about it so we would stay connected, but sometimes that was difficult as our feelings were so raw it was challenging to communicate.
I wanted to ask everyone their story and I couldn’t bear to hear the details, all at the same time.
I can’t possibly say all that happened during this trip. I went twice to the region during those years. I am deeply grateful for those two journeys and for The Doves.
I think of those times often these days with so many wars, so many refugees, so many torn countries, such cruelty in our own government and division amongst the people.
We are all living with hope and hopelessness.
We depend on beauty and artistry to remind us of the value of being human.
We all need food and shelter. We need to sing and dance.
We need real community. We are tired of the news and the crashing assaults on our Mother Earth.
All I can tell you tonight is not to give up, not any of us.
Demonstrate, share food, sing in circles, dance til you sweat and know that our humanity is something larger than these wars and conflicts.
Stand for the children.
On a day of rest while we were in Dubrovnik, a beautiful old walled city on the Adriatic, I went swimming in the holy waters there. I floated for a long time with this melody running through me.
“ In the arms of the mother, the great Adriatic mother, in the arms of the mother I lay down.”
Later in the day I met with Jami Sieber who had taken a long walk along the shore and had heard music as well for her cello. We put our ideas together in a piece we recorded called Arms of the Mother. It will always be one of my favorites.
Listen To Arms Of The Mother
The music of that place transcended the war. It was held in the land and the water. It came into our bodies and offered us this song.
Blessings on all of us around the world, in these times, in all times.