Belonging

So, I’ve started my new job. I am still an aide or ESL, but this year I’m working at the local high school instead of the elementary, and through a combination of my parents and me showing off, it’s come out that I’m a slam poet. So I’ve been reflecting on this whole poetry thing, which is especially important due to my recent battle with depression.

One problem with depression is the extreme isolation one feels, and all the talk around you of “it’s not all that bad” actually only makes you feel more islated. And what I’ve discovered is that one of the few places I never feel isolated is at slams. Rather, I get this incredible sense of belonging. I feel completely myself and completely accepted. And I feel part of something. Because when you go to a poetry slam, everybody’s there for the same reason, and even they aren’t, they ten to get sucked into to.

There’s an energy about slams that makes them inclusive. Being a part of one is to be a cell in an organism, a single living being and simultaneously part of a much bigger living being. And I realize that’s what got me into poetry. Because for years, that was the only place I could feel like that and it’s the best feeling in the world. And then I went to Lithuania.

Now, this year was my fourth time visiting Lithuania, and every year I’ve gone, I’ve gone during Midsummer. Midsummer in Lithuania is combined with Saint John’s Day, and June 24th is a national holiday. But the 23rd is the day you want to be in Klaipeda. Because that’s the night of the festival.

Now, my school, LCC, is in Klaipeda, but the first year that the real party is the night before the holiday (which is in place for everyone to recover from the party) and I don’t know why I didn’t go the second year. Maybe I actually flew out before the festival, so it wasn’t until my third visit, last year, that I went. I was supposed to go with Annie, my classmate, but she backed out in favor of homework. (This is why you don’t do homework, kids.) But I went anyway, and I’m glad I did.

Now, here comes the problematic part of the story. Whenever people ask me about the festival, I tend to respond with something like, “um… there’s a witch burning and some other stuff…” It doesn’t help that ragana–witch–is one of the few words I actually know in Lithuanian.

So, the festival is held on a moated hill and a Lithuanian folk band plays music and people dance. And that’s about it.There are vendors, and people make wreaths to wear and they might play some traditional games or call everyone named John on stage to embarrass them, but that’s the gist of it. When it gets darker and colder, they light a bonfire and people dance around that. At midnight, they light a straw sculpture on the water. But all in all, it sounds rather anti-climactic.

So you can’t really blame me for telling people, “there’s a WITCH BURNING!” (And in case you’re wondering, the witches are straw.) But the festival is so much more than that. Because being there is like being at a poetry slam. Everyone has gathered for more or less one purpose, and if there for a different reason, you will sucked in. Literally. Like, random strangers will pull you out of the crowd to dance. But that’s what’s so great about it. Because suddenly, you’re dancing in a circle around this bonfire, and you’re laughing so hard your face hurts. And you’re filled–truly filled–with a sense of belonging.

At least, that’s how it happened to me. I mean, I bonded with complete strangers–strangers who didn’t speak my language–whose language I didn’t speak. And since I’ve traveled to Lithuania on an ethnic re-identification quest, that power of belonging was even stronger. And the best part was? I was there alone. Since Annie hadn’t gone with me, I didn’t feel self-conscious very long.I saw folks dancing around a bonfire and decided to join in. And there was no one I had to make an impression to, so I could just be myself. That is also the same feeling I get at a poetry slam. When I am on stage, I owe no one anything, so I can be honest about myself. And in the end? I think it’s that honest that makes these moments possible.