Friday, December 02, 2005

An Open Letter for Edith Kramer

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Dear Edith,

Sometimes it's good to know what your students learned, so I would like to express a deep sense of gratitude and inner satisfaction for the many things you have taught me.

One of the more important thing I learned was the idea of story-telling in the art room, and how appreciative the people we work with are, when we can furnish their minds with inspiring, challenging, sometimes scary and ultimately reassuring stories like Selma Lagerlöf's THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF NILS.

I loved hearing about how you told the story of the little boy, Nils, and his struggles to become human in your art studio at the Wiltwyck Boys' School. I can also understand how the boys identified so strongly with the character Nils and all that he was learning from the old, gray, lead goose, Akka, that they begged you to tell them more stories about Akka. She was probably helping them to become human, too. How satisfying it must have been for them to paint with you and hear these stories.

In looking through the slides of your work, your home in Austria, and photos from your family, I realize another thing I have come to value is history, and the idea of being a part of a lineage; that we could learn the things you learned from Friedl Dicker, and that others could learn these things from us.

One of the best things I learned from Friedl through you, was that you don't have to wait until your analysis is complete to do good things in the world. Friedl told you that she thought that something was wrong when she felt most alive while she was imprisoned, that this must be masochism and should be analyzed. In actuality, her ability to remain fully alive under extreme adversity served her and the children she worked with in Terezin. I find this comforting because I doubt that a perfect analysis is anything I will be able to achieve in this lifetime, and if Friedl could do good things under such impossible conditions, then surely I could do some good, too, with conditions that aren't too bad.

Another aspect of appreciating history and of being a part of a lineage is the sense of community this engenders. I learned to appreciate that so much when visiting you in Austria. The sense of history and community is so very alive there. You aren't just Edith Kramer there, you are "their Kramer", in a way held by them, as if they create a transitional space for you and each other with this feeling of history and community. This feeling is more deeply satisfying than any extrinsic reward I could think of.

And finally I believe that you sparked in me the desire to search for things that provide inner satisfaction (more art, more puppets, more beauty and puppies) and to search for the part of the super ego that is kindly and care-taking, the inner-Akka, or even, perhaps, the inner-Kramer. The search for these things has been the best adventure of all. It must surely compare with Nils' adventures with Akka, and I have learned everything about being human from this adventure.

So for all of these things and for so much more, I would like to say thank you, Edith!

Your loving student,
Lani Gerity

PS - Here's a quote from the end of The Further Adventures of Nils, when Nils has become human and tries to say good bye to his friends and companions, the geese:

"He sat down on the sands and buried his face in his hands. What was the use of his gazing after them any more?

Presently he heard the rustle of wings. Old mother Akka had found it hard to fly away from Thumbietot, and turned back, and now that the boy sat quite still she ventured to fly nearer to him. Suddenly something must have told her who he was, for she lit close beside him.

Nils gave a cry of joy and took old Akka in his arms. The other wild geese crowded round him and stroked him with their bills. They cackled and chattered and wished him all kinds of good luck, and he, too, talked to them and thanked them for the wonderful journey which he had been privileged to make in their company." -Selma Lagerlöf

PDF version here

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