Yesterday, as part of my very excellent 43rd birthday, my husband & a friend & I drove way out to the Barrett Hall in South Strafford, VT, to hear my friend & teacher Sayon Camara play West African music with his band of merry ecstatics.
We arrived around 9:15 at night. No lights save for what was coming dimly from the Hall windows, and from a near-full rainbow moon with clouds processing all around it, like something out of a Hodler painting:
So: moonlit night, white clapboard New England village hall, cascading drum sound rolling out to meet us.
Inside, Sayon was wearing what can only be called the Hat of Pure Joy. It embodies some hints of a Roman Centurion's helmet, of Pipi Longstocking's braids, and of Tibetan monks' ceremonial crests. More importantly, it is tremendously effective. In the Hat of Pure Joy, Sayon becomes the catalyst of a whole network of bliss: 93 year-old ladies bopping around with sturdy-footed Vermont hippie chicks, drummers finding truth in rhythm, young men & old men shuffling & leaping, all of us bringing forth gladness for the spring, for bodies, for fearlessness alongside all the fears we all know.
I wrenched my knee (again) for the sake of dancing with abandon. This is a habit I share with my dog, who will wrench her knee for the sake of any halfway good-smelling dog, any day. We understand each other this way, but it still hurts. Laying on my back on the scruffy lobby carpet, trying to shake the stuckness out of my joint, I listened to the drums & thought I heard the sound of voices shouting joyfully with them - many happy voices affirming the dancers & the bravery of the music. Maybe they were devas. If I were a local deva, that's where I would have been, last night.
On the way (pirate-walking, in my case) back to our cars, we got to talking with some friends about the election, and then Donald Trump and the Hell Toupée:
Someday I want to teach a workshop where over the course of a day or a weekend participants produce their own Hell Toupées and Hats of Pure Joy.
Each person's Hell Toupée would bring form to their infantile rage & grumpiness & self-centeredness & fear of death. Go ahead: spikes, feathers, chains, prim felt, little veil, whatever it takes. Each time a workshop veteran had the presence of mind to pull her Toupée out of the closet & put it on, she'd be acknowledging that her pain is a state. Painful, yes. Part of being human, yes. But not who she is. She might make a terrible face in the mirror, roar, giggle, sob, stomp around the room, and then just set it back, next to the uncomfortable shoes she never wears. Or she might choose to wear it that day as fair warning: Dear Sir or Madam, Do you not see I am wearing my Hell Toupée? For your own safety, I suggest that you save your wishy-washy passive-aggressive request for another occasion or listener.
And each person's Hat of Pure Joy would bring form to what is bravest and most peculiar about them - their capacity to enter into absolutely ordinary situations and create space for what is brave and free in oneself & others, unafraid of how it looks, seems, or might affect one's bank account. A workshop veteran might be wise to pack his Hat of Pure Joy for the family reunion he wasn't especially looking forward to. Suddenly, it seems possible to ask Aunt Mary to show him the steps of her high school dances, or to talk with Cousin Steve about what really happened, that summer when everyone got really quiet all of a sudden. It seems possible to enjoy the world exactly as it presents itself, moment to moment.
Surprisingly, the Hats of Pure Joy & the Hell Toupées might not wind up looking all that different from one another. Go deeply enough into rage & pain what we find is release, joy, compassion, for all of us, wrenching our knees, doing the best we can, moving on. Wherever we are, our hearts are there.
108 Names of Now