I recently attended a workshop at Lesley University, run by Sarina Furer who teaches children in Israel how to write poetry to process their trauma. Her students are in a constant state of alertness, living in a war zone with regular shellings. Even in the classroom, there is no safety; when a signal comes on, they have 90 seconds to get to a safe shelter before a ballistic strikes.
War breeds isolation and loneliness, so she tells her students to shift their attention to “small, quiet moments of beauty” to create a calming of the psyche. Writing and sharing their poems is a powerful experience for her students, letting them exclaim “war has not completely overtaken my life.”
As I listened to her speak, I thought of a song by the Decemberists, “After the Bombs,” in which the narrator describes the anxiety and fear of living in a war-state (“we grip at our hands, we hold just a little tight”), as well as the simple pleasure of dancing that allows them forget their fear and reminds them that there is beauty in the world.
Dancing, like the children’s writing, is a beautiful act of self expression. It is an escape that lets us “forget all our trials,” and fills us with the warmth of peace. That they are able to dance by the light of bomb fires speaks to immense strength and resolve: that war has not completely taken over their lives, reminding us that when we can find a way to attain inner peace – through writing, dancing, art or any other means – no conflict big or small can hold dominance over us.