LEAF Member, David Nachlas, Opens Up

The festival retreat was a fortunate way to emerge from a year or more of semi-isolation, the feeling of gratitude was strong and the people were gentle.  I cried for real several times.  I had missed feeling kindness from and toward strangers, missed so many silly conversations, missed smiles and kids running crazy.  But mainly I think I missed the love.  The invisible group energy-force type of love. 

The first time the tears flowed was poetry yoga with Tara.  In the grass on a mat and in a pose, she would transition from instructing to a lesson.  The pose was child’s pose and as it is the shape of a seed she explained how a seed is not going to develop if it is opened early.  As we were each seeds we should wait to open when we are ready in order to be able to grow to our fullest.  Maybe we should just take our time and when we are ready to trust again, ready to let the world in again, we should go ahead and open up – but no hurry, the LEAF family will be there with love and support when the time is right for you.  
I had to take it easy due to a heart issue that has come up this year.  We are not sure exactly what is going on but I cant really exert myself without having bothersome worrisome symptoms.  Its tough as a lover of games and dance and as an active person, difficult  to have to choose what I can do and know that may be all I can do.  I wore myself out juggling soccer with some other germinaters while bouncing to a brass band the first morning of the fest and had to rest at the campsite for a while.  We biked around the site a lot and up the hill many times, so I often had to rest at the top or take a break.  But still I had to try climbing all the steps to the lax field just to check it out.  I cant help it, i just need to move- in my house you would never see me slowly walk upstairs in the past, i practically levitate up them, a hop and a skip.  So that I am not winded when i get there, i now walk upstairs.  
The second time I cried was when Kayla Lynn gave her wisdom to the crowd at the kids ‘One Voice Project’ performance.  It was a late night so 1030 am was a challenge but we were there to support our friend Melissa’s awesome kids and project.  (My son Eli and Kayla ran around a fest in WV together as young kids and I sent Eli to Melissa’s music school for drum lessons, driving an hour to WV once a week.) The teenagers (and up -to 21 actually) really did amaze and impress, and the crowd yelled and danced in the grass under the huge tent-like canopy.  Then Kayla spoke about the project.  They go to schools and show kids their musical skills and encourage them to try music and also encourage them to be happy and healthy people with a message of love and acceptance and belief in self.
Kayla said she grew up in a small town in an odd place and didn’t fit in and didn’t get along that well or accept ‘being put in a box’.  She talked about how hard it was being an outsider in school, about being isolated – she started determining her own self worth based on the opinions of other people and started to hate herself. She became depressed, anxious, suicidal.  Dropping out of school was a last ditch effort and in West Virginia that was really not a problem, so she did.  
She homeschooled and played music and sang and received love from her mom and she slowly felt a little better.  Now, you would never guess any of this to see her swing her hair over her head as she wields the bass guitar in a metal shred or as she goes from sweet to strong in a blues song with the confidence of someone who has grown up on stage. So the next part was key.
“I still struggle with it every day…of course…”  What do you mean ‘of course’, I sniffled to myself, you dont show it at all?  She continued, “Its not some thing that just goes away…” Man, that’s when I stopped trying to act like I wasn’t crying.  I don’t remember the exact words after that for a minute but got the message.  We can all have the trauma we have had and it doesn’t have to define us now.  Even if we were picked on and disliked and felt bad about ourselves and grew up that way and developed certain patterns of thought we can still like ourselves, we can even be the lead singer of a rock band if we want and, in fact, we are the same as that awesome confident looking lead singer – she’s been through it too.
Some of the scars on our society caused by this pandemic may never go away.  Sure there will be some positive changes we hang on to, some benefits perhaps in being forced to change and adapt and seeing new possibilities from that.  But the scar of the separation of people will remain.  The scar of being alone for months last spring while my girlfriend was helping her daughter and being shut inside and not able to go out or meet friends, that scar remains.  The scar of the anger at people for having a different opinion than me is still there.  The scar of hurting myself by calling others ignorant and hating them and blaming them and suspecting them and keeping an eye out for them and avoiding them and judging them is a deep scar.  The problem with my heart, possibly from having caught the virus, though i tested negative, may be with me for a while, may kill me, or may some how be resolved. I dont know how.  All of the scars will fade and i didn’t know how until now.  This is how.
We went through an exercise Kayla does at school where everyone looks down and then raises their hand if they have ever felt ostracized or alone and in the end everyone’s hand is up.  She says she does it to make herself feel better, like ok, I’m not alone.  But really it is to remind all of us in the crowd that we are not alone.  The way she put it may have been more eloquent – it was crazy wise for a 21 year old.
The band played some bone-jarring funk and a guy behind me started a line dance move and folks next to him joined.  They tapped me on the shoulder so I could see what they were doing.  Soon the whole front of the crowd was stepping and swaying in unison.  (One thing bout LEAF – overall level of dance skill is high – when you see a contra dance it looks like a military exercise, every foot in place on time!)  The band loosened up even more with that and it was one of those synergistic festival moments.  Later the man who started the dance step, a little older than me, said with a tear in his eye that he never does that, it just came to him because his dad used to do it – he died this year.  His wife said it was her favorite part of the festival.
Its been a hard year for everyone and we were often reminded of that, reminded that it may be now time to heal.  We were reminded that we have been through this pandemic together and that the separation we have felt, the anxiety and fear we have felt, the loss of trust and the the anger, they are all shared. AND they are going away as we use our skills to unclog our love pipes and get the love flowing again.  See here, it is possible.  Thank goodness!
We pushed on further up the hill, past the usual Barn stage, to an open barn-like structure, maybe a stable, where we had seen a good late night show with two trombones the night before.  Kayla had sat in on bass and sang. This late morning it was free mimosa morning and there was a table of snacks being given away.  Someone was playing very sweetly and there was an unusually attentive and large crowd for that spot at that time.  The woman singing had it like a church in there – I gingerly slid in to  refill my water bottle at the snack table.  I didn’t know it but i had stumbled into the secret surprise guest artist – one of the members of Rising Appalachia.  I stood and listened quietly.
The last little tear shed was when Leah Song sang her last song and the crowd sang in response.  It may seem played out by now but with the timing and the crowd and the obvious effort that had been put into this Opening Up, I really felt it. So we all sang “I say Thank you…, I say thank you…, I say thank you yeah, Thank you very much” over and over for a while.  Sometimes you say it but don’t really feel it.  It was such a release to really feel it again.  I am truly thankful for the lessons I have learned from these gatherings, from being around so much love that it is able to push through me and expel the junk I have stored up in a year and in my life and allow me to be a conduit for the love also.  I got my love pipes flowing again, thanks to LEAF!
We had one last little dance before leaving, it was an African Kora player and a genre jumping drummer playing synth drums.  Up front the pod-circle spray paint had worn off the grass, divisions disappeared, and the people were just dancing with each other a few feet apart, spread out covering the whole floor and boogying like no one was watching.  Silly, skilled, slow, slinky, spastic- everyone was doing their thing while weaving together their paths and the family net that says you do have worth.  You are not alone, you’ve been through what you’ve been through, as have we all, and because you ARE worthy, YOU…ARE… LOVED.

Mayani is a Maasai boy from longido Arusha. He went to boarding school at 6 years old and lost his Maasai language and tradition. Since joining the LEAF program, he has learned to sing Maasai songs, practiced the ‘jump’ tradition and wear Maasai shukas (traditional clothing). Mayani is extremely happy and is currently teaching other youth the culture.