Star Spangled Banner

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My experience of singing the “Star Spangled Banner” has undergone a dramatic transformation from the time I sang it with fellow 8th graders in Ray School in Chicago. I danced as a young girl on the weekend with the young men who were freshly shorn recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Base because my Mom, Noma Genné was the Director of the Chicago YWCA – USO. Not much later my introduction to war came through the lens of Vietnam. I never could put together my experience of dancing with those friendly young men and the horrors of the war that I saw on television.

For the last year and a half I have had the privilege of sharing our KAIROS dancing heart™ program – dancing, singing telling stories and collaborating – with a group of retired soldiers from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force (Army Air Force) each week at the VA Adult Day Program in Richfield. With a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board – with funding from the Cultural Legacy Fund – and generous individual contributors to KAIROS ALIVE!, we were welcomed into this program that daily serves a number of veterans and their families.

In the beginning I was determined to get the veterans dancing: in their chairs, tapping their fingers, or even moving across the floor with a swing step or waltz because I knew it would have positive health outcomes, and most importantly, invite them back into the community circle again. Many of the men have far surpassed my expectations: we tap dance, waltz, twist and dance the Schottische; we have had our own “barn dances” and we have developed our own improvisational theater/music/dance work that is inventive and imaginative. “Don” dances with me smoothly and elegantly across the dance floor. “Bill” uses a chair for support. We share stories from our lives, we tell jokes and remember fun stuff and hard stuff. We create community through artistic expression together. We are making new memories together.

I am moved by what our friends have shared with us about their experience as soldiers: of being dropped, as a very young man, over German territory during World War II, losing friends, bringing home souvenirs from fighting in Korea and another quietly told story of returning from Korea on a stretcher, minus any mementos.

Sometimes we sing and walk/march together. Last week our artist friend from DC, Anthony Hyatt, was visiting and played fiddle for us. We “stepped” to “The Caissons Go Rolling Along”, “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” and others. Then we stood arm and arm and sang the “Star Spangled Banner” together. We all hit the high notes, we knew the words: we sounded good; better than I have ever heard it sung. Then we sang “This Land is Your Land”. We sang the words with feeling: we all love our country, we love this world and we are grateful that, in our own way, we have helped create a more welcoming place to be.

Thank you to these dear men and their families who have been willing to show, in their own way, how much they care about us – and this beautiful world that we live in.

– Maria, 11/11/12


Spirit Canoe

These days around Halloween they say, is the time when the veil that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead is at its thinnest.

Using the Papua New Guinean story of the spirit canoe (a boat without a bottom that can travel into the spirit world), we invited our Veterans to name those people who had died who might be rowing that boat.

Everyone shared a memory of a parent, grandparent or fallen comrade.

With the rhythmic beat of a drum, we imagined them rowing and made space in our hearts for all of them.


CONFETTI~A First Person Poem About Alzheimer’s by New Mexican Poet Stuart Hall


My mind’s not at all a blank slate,

Though I can not keep track of the date

Or the day of the week,

And facts play hide-and-seek,

For my mind to be blank would be great.

Instead it is wired like spaghetti;
It conflates the important and the petty;
The connections of things
Are like tangles of strings
Or like celebratory confetti.

Special thanks to Gary Glazner’s Alzheimer’s Poetry Project.
Gary will give a training on the use of poetry for Alzheimer’s patients for Minneapolis Institute of Arts staff, Wilder Assisted Living Staff and KairosAlive! artists on October 4.

Does Your Mother Know?

I am still smiling thinking about all the delightful stories shared at our Dancing Heart™ sites last week. Our storytelling prompt was: Tell us about something you did or wanted to do that your mother didn’t allow.

I watched as participants began to wiggle in their chairs, smile and blush. At Deer Crest Assisted Living, Bill shared that he skipped school and went down to the river during the winter and dangerously rode the floating ice. We heard wonderful stories of bikini bathing suits that were banned (but worn in secret), talking late at night to new boyfriends, sneaking the car out to go dancing and not finishing everything on the dinner plate.

We honored our mothers that week and we also celebrated our spunky, wild youthful selves!


How wonderful it is to dance, create and play together

It is Tuesday morning; our last Dancing Heart at the Como Park Apartments. We have been here for 12 weeks. It has been an engaging, heartfelt 12 weeks. I feel as though I am now sitting among friends. We have shared personal stories about our lives. We have danced and grooved to jazz with “Mr. Smooth”, Irv Williams, learned Irish jigs, created name poems, moved lyrically with colorful scarves, played improv games and so much more.

Today, Cris our fiddle player and teaching artist is with me. He kneels down and plays personal Swedish songs to the women in the circle. We find ourselves in the heart of spring, telling stories of first loves, best ways to flirt and the miracles of Eros. We giggle and giggle!

How wonderful it is to dance, create and play together. . . we wrote our last poem together:

It is spring!
It is spring the birds are in the trees.
The flowers are blooming.
Sitting on the porch in the spring the trees are blossoming, watching boys go by hoping they’ll stop.
Mary winks at me across the circle my heart jumps into the light.
Your wink is a wish of understanding.
I loved Kay but she was interested in Tom.
I’m crying for him because he got jilted at six.
Snap out of it, it’s over.
My husband when he first saw me, I was dancing. I want to meet her, he said!  Our histories are now continuing.
We met on the airplane. We didn’t flirt.
We were flying high!
When I met my husband, I was dancing with another guy.
Just to look at him, I fell in love with him.
I have been married for 62 years.
We loved him up to the last minute.
It’s spring, It’s spring, It’s spring!

Thank you Como Block Nurses!


Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime!

As I watch our country and the world grapple with economic uncertainty, I am reminded, as we are entering a time of great change, of how greatly the wisdom of our elders is needed.

At each of our Dancing Heart™ sessions we have been asking the questions:

How do you make do with less?
How did you survive the Depression?

Below are a few of the “jewels” we received from our elder friends at the Struthers Parkinson’s Center:

Ken: Most of us kids had a paper route. We would deliver The Guardian; my brother delivered the Saturday Evening Post. Once we got all our change, we would joyously dump all the money on to the dining room table!

Bill: We were farmers. I would wake up at 5 am and three of my siblings and I would milk eighteen cows. Let me tell you there was a lot of squeezing! Then we went to school. After school there were the chores to do and that is where I would make a little money. My mother took in chickens; she then took the eggs and traded them for sugar or flour. My mother was always busy at night; she would mend clothes, braid rugs and quilt. She worked till she went to bed.

Julie: We have to remember that it wasn’t just in the 30’s that people were struggling. In the 1990’s as a single mother with five children I struggled. I received immense assistant from the community without that I don’t know what would have happened.

That morning I witnessed the power of storytelling in action. Each person needed to remember and retell these events. And as the listener we needed to receive their wisdom, their challenge.

One theme became apparent – As our world changes—we all need each other—we can’t do it alone.

Buddy, can you spare a dime. . .I invite you to share your thoughts on how you make do with less. How have you survived during economic difficulties…


The “Encore” stage

The late Dr. Gene Cohen talked about the four stages of older adulthood in his books and studies. The last stage of life he referred to as, the encore stage. This stage is not seen as the end, but a time to come to terms with what might be ahead. It is also a special time for elders to teach and give their legacy and story to those who are currently with them, listening…

Thank you to David Slater of Entelechy Arts in South London for writing this beautiful piece on the “encore” of  dear Ida Arbeit.

David Slater’s piece on the “encore” of Ida