One person alchemizes cardboard into a hat shaped like a boat.
Another glues gills onto a fish sculpture.
A third cuts, slices, and hot glues pieces of cloth to make an intricate flag.
These people are not kids; they’re adults. Extremely accomplished, talented adults. I’ve been invited to join them on a 5 day adventure of creativity and community off the coast of Newfoundland. Over the past two days, I’ve told stories around a campfire, lead the group in an opening circle, and seen some of the most stunning landscape I’ve ever encountered.
So far, it’s been great. Until this detour into art-making.
Art brings up Stuff for me.
In the firehouse, I hold an exacto knife and hack away at a piece of felt. I’ve decided to make a flag that we’ll use in a parade later in the trip. In my mind, this flag will wave majestically over the procession. It will weave together themes of this journey: the landscape, the people, the wildlife.
Even as I trace shapes on the felt, a familiar sinking feeling ties my stomach into heavy knots. I can already see that my jagged exacto-cuts are mutilating my grand vision. With a kind of determined sadness, I grab a glue gun and affix pieces of felt to each other.
I use way too much glue. The whole thing looks lumpy. It sucks. I’m a twelve year old again. My art sucks. Everyone knows my art sucks. Everyone else’s art is awesome. They are awesome. I suck.
Pretending to remember a very, very urgent appointment, I get up, toss my flag on the floor next to a few other (much better) flags, and leave.
Outside, I take deep breaths, drawing clean, chill island air into my artistically-inept lungs. Well, I think as I walk away from the firehouse, that cut pretty deep. Let’s not do art again ever.
Later that night, people gather around the fire and share about their days. Some people visited a fishing boat. Others hiked around the island. At some point, just about everyone made something in the firehouse. They’re sharing pictures of their creations.
It’s so cool. My mind can’t comprehend how people made all of these amazing things.
In the corner, I see Amy, one of the talented folks, with a piece of felt in her lap. A needle and thread darts and weaves through it. The shape looks oddly familiar. She looks up with a smile and it hits me: she’s needle-pointing my flag.
‘I don’t have all the thread colors I wanted, but it looked like it wanted some help,’ she says as she ties off a piece of thread.
My heart constricts as emotion rises from my belly. Someone saw my flag and rescued it from the dustbin of obsurity. Not just rescued it, but saw enough value in it to spend time with it, to draw out a bit of a beauty with needle and thread.
Amy’s thread highlights the shapes I’d given up on. A misshapen star now radiates yellow and white light. Knots of thread become twinkling stars. A felt flame flickers with yellow stitching.
I mean, sure, it’s just a felt flag. Even with help, it’ll never be a great work of art. But it feels like Amy’s attention to it is sewing up a wound I’ve carried for decades. A feeling of inadequacy and worthlessness that, no matter how much super deep work I do, crops up from time to time.
What if this is what we can do for each other? What if we’re here to see the beauty hidden in each other and draw it out gently with the needle and thread of our attention? What if that’s how we heal, by seeing each other and sewing up each other’s wounds, bringing out the inherent treasures hidden in each soul?
Amy keeps stitching, oblivious to the fact that I’m about to start sobbing and that she’s maybe just sewn herself indelibly into my heart and memory. I take a sip of beer and smile.