Sarah and Rosa...
in Celebration of Black History Month (February) and Women's History Month (March)
Elko, Nevada isn't exactly on the road to somewhere else, at least it wasn't for me when I began the
3 1/2 hour drive from Salt Lake City on May 7, 2014. I rented a car at the airport and splashed my way along I-80 through thunderstorms, which threatened to blow me onto salt flats stretching as far as I could see. I persevered because I knew that Sarah was waiting, and I was eager to meet her. After a year of trying to coordinate our schedules, she was expecting me at 11:00.
Sarah Sweetwater was the 42nd woman I visited on my 50-state journey. Forty-one women before her had shared their stories of creating labyrinths, stories intertwined with their own personal journeys. The only thing I knew about Sarah was that she had designed the labyrinth at Elko Peace Park, along with another community labyrinth in Ely, Nevada, plus one of her own – with the help of students, grandchildren and friends. I was on my way to walk the labyrinths in Elko and to hear her story.
What I didn't expect to find was an artist...and a subject I recognized immediately.
A woman on a bus bench.
Paused at a pivotal moment in American history.
"My intention in positioning Rosa in a half standing, half sitting position," Sarah explained, is to emphasize her intention. She was intentionally taking a stand on sitting."
Through Sarah's lens, I leaned forward and greeted Rosa, a Black woman living in the Jim Crow South, who had had enough. Enough indignity. Enough injustice. Enough!
"Watch," she seemed to be instructing me. "Watch me... sit."
She sat, fully aware that she would not rise – not this time – when the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white person. By taking a stand, she ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ultimately resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling against racial segregation on buses.
Rosa Parks was not the only woman of courage that Sarah sculpted. Cast in bronze only a few steps away stood her statue of Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute woman, whose voice became a strong advocate for the rights of Native Americans. And commanding a table just inside the entryway sat Maya, a graceful goddess carved in white Carrera marble - "a compilation of womens' power and strength," Sarah said.
Rosa's face stayed with me for the next two years as I finished my travels and completed the book. She seemed to be asking something of me, but I couldn't determine what. I wrote Sarah to ask if she had found a home for Rosa. Impatient for an answer, I Googled "Sarah Sweetwater Rosa Parks" and to my shock and deep sadness, stumbled upon Sarah's obituary. She had died of cancer a year and a half after my visit.
Thanks to Sarah's daughter, Alice Digenan, I learned that Rosa (now bronzed) resides in Picture This Gallery in Elko. Alice is searching for a permanent home for Rosa, where her mother's talent and Rosa's message are accessible to a larger population.
I've continued to contemplate what Rosa, through Sarah's artistic vision, asks of me, and perhaps asks of each of us. I hear their voices, raised in a common refrain:
"Honor your own strength and move forward!"
In gratitude, dear Sarah and Rosa, I continue on my path – with heightened intention.
Sarah in the center of the labyrinth she created with family and friends.
Portland, Maine - March 4
Daughter Katherine was pushing granddaughter Hazel in a stroller from downtown Portland to our condo about a mile away. I was strolling beside them, admiring the turn of the century (20th) architecture while bemoaning the fact that no one builds houses like this anymore.
"Check out that house over there," Katherine said pointing to a stylish tiny house across the street. A house for books, not people. A Free Little Library!
"I love those!" I exclaimed.
Katherine, who gets more excited (if possible) about books than I do, was two steps ahead of me as she maneuvered the stroller down one curb and over the next.
She opened the tiny door, and we took turns rummaging through the collection. Towards the back, she found a set of Geronimo Stilton books that she thought Hazel's brother, Robert, might like.
"Pretty cool the way someone built this house to resemble the original," Katherine noted as she stuffed the books in her bag.
"What original?" I asked, turning my head in a clueless sort of way.
"The one behind you."
"A-ha!" Moment #1 - It pays to step back... and look at the BIG picture.
Kotor, Montenegro - March 10
I left Portland the next day to fly to Montenegro, where Drew is continuing his interim year as Head of School at Knightsbridge School International in Tivat (Read more on 10/4/17 blog posting.)
We spent the weekend in the nearby town of Kotor, showing his brother Dwight and wife Simone the sights. Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, parts of its Old Town dating back to the 12th century. Many of the buildings look every bit their age, but one in particular interested me.
Unlike its restored neighbors which house restaurants, shops and hotels, its fragmented facade is overrun with vines, plants, trees and pigeons.
From the vantage point of our hotel window, I could focus on the building's details, especially the pigeons' comings and goings. While most of the population flitted between windows and roof (what remains of it), one pigeon stayed put. He/she stayed in his/her. . . pigeon hole.
"So that's where that expression came from!" I announced to anyone who would listen.
Of course, I wanted to interview that pigeon, ask the obvious questions:
Why are you pigeonholed? How do you feel about being pigeonholed? Do you stay there because you want to or because others have pigeonholed you? But, unfortunately, there was no pigeon translator available.
"A-Ha!" Moment #2 - It's equally valuable to step closer... and look at the details.
No matter what the location or situation, life keeps reminding me to pay attention.
(Find more about "Paying Attention" Part 1 and Part 2 on previous postings.)