Breadcrumbs to Flowers | by Brooke Summers-Perry

“In these troubled times it’s hard enough as it is. My soul’s known a better life than this.” Lyrics from the Brett Dennen song, There is So Much More

This song has been rolling around in my head since Sunday’s talk. The drive to find my calling and pursue it has been rolling my life around for as long as I can remember. I think I’ve always known that I was surrounded by greatness. In other words, I have been grateful for hard working, compassionate role models. I have parents who are open minded and supportive. Maybe it is because my childhood was stacked high in privilege, or maybe it is because when I was in college and figuring out what I was going to do and who I was going to be, I was following two of the most incredibly talented and skilled siblings, a professional athlete who is now in the American Motorcycle Association’s Hall of Fame and a professional singer who sang solos, national anthems, for kings and queens, while I was dropping classes and changing majors as fast as she was getting stamps in her passport, or maybe it is because I am sub 5 foot tall and my need to make an impact had more to do with combatting the endless pats on my head than it did with making the world a better place. The first half of my life I really wanted to do something big. For various reasons, I thought anything less was failure. 

Since I lost my job last year, I have been listening more carefully and walking more softly. I have been noticing what inspires me, what energizes me, and what breadcrumbs I can see when my view is closer to my current location. My perspective was forced by bed rest following major surgery last year. After Harvey hit Houston, I wanted to address the immediate, most obvious needs. I wanted to get out and muck houses. I wanted to work in areas that were the most overlooked. I had to accept the fact that I was physically incapable. My body was in recovery. I listened for other ways I could help. I offered a writing and art camp for my daughter’s friends so that their parents could get back to work. It wasn’t the most high impact, high profile, or the most meaningful work the world needed at that moment. It was a need that appeared in my proximity and it was something that made me giddy with energy and fueled my recovery.

Running that little camp in our home lead me to addressing a greater need in our local elementary school. One of the parents informed me that our school had lost funds for an art teacher and that there would be no art class next year. She asked me, “What would you do with an art ancillary class?” For the past few months I have been working on the answer. I start working with 125 students next week.

As I reflect on Bill’s talk on Sunday, I began getting clarity about one of the reasons I am so passionate about the curriculum I have been developing. It is directly related to Bill’s talk on Sunday. For the past 13 years I have encountered brilliant and passionate students. Young people carrying the burden of global problems, advocates and activists frustrated by the education system’s one path fits all mentality. We live in a world that deeply needs to cultivate creativity, varying perspectives, passion, and action in ways that empower innovation. We need to cultivate the skills that will creatively address our failing environmental, social, economical, and political systems. The curriculum I am building introduces elementary students to the creative process, highlights how art movements, masterpieces, and masters expressed and addressed challenges, creatively integrating and innovating. This art program will host local businesses and see where skills in observation, mindfulness, expression, and problem-solving have real world application. This may not be the largest and most immediate world need, but it is where I find myself occupying space, where my experience and passion meet action that brings me the most energy and meaning.

Bill’s talk this week reminded me that we need to cultivate these skills, developing a spirit of ingenuity, a mind that can detach from the way it’s always been, a heart of compassion for ourselves and others, and a spirit of discernment to see what to address where we can be the most impactful and the most energized and sustained.

We don’t have time for anything else. What is ours to do may not be the most obvious or the most high profile, or the most clear. One of the things I find hardest to do as the stakes get higher, the ads get more persistent, and the voices that separate us get louder, is to sit with the still small voice and listen. And yet, I know this is the only way to be mindful of the spot I stand in and the feet I have to move me. It is the one true guide that knows where my experience, my energy, and my heart know where my work is my play, where I might follow the breadcrumbs and leave a trail of flowers. Here is a poem I wrote this week while contemplating painting, play, and purpose.

Toes in rabbit holes,
solid ground under heels.

Lost in rhythms of strokes,
tinted sloshing wave peaks.

Wrestling edges where
shadows meet vibrant light.

Moist roots, lashes touch,
in mystery of night.

Tangled release reveals
forms, shapes, and matter.

What could come to exist
that already hasn’t?

What is mine to wrestle?
What is mine to release?

What is life without product or impact,
the cost of my peace?

The question rhetorical,
drama, vague, and abstract.

The song of my heart
vivid, alive, and concrete.