Dance and dahlias deliver hope to distressed

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 20, 2005

Last week we experienced Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" through the jazz singer's own heart.

"Seems to me it ain't the world that's so bad," Satchmo once said, "but what we are doing to it. And all I'm saying is, see what a wonderful world it would be, if only we'd give it a chance."

The day after that column came out, Cochrane coffee companion Glen Eyford told me why he thought the impact of Satchmo's hit song itself proved his point.

"With the power of music – and the arts generally – we can open humankind to the beauty in our lives, in our community, and in our world," he said.

When Glen speaks, I listen. Professor emeritus and former chair of Development Studies at the University of Alberta, he has devoted a lifetime to the study of aesthetics and the wellbeing of society.

Thus, during the U.N. Decade for Cultural Development in the 1980s, he worked with the United Nations "to find examples where culture, usually in the form of music, drama, or poetry, contributed to the healthy growth of the community," he explained.

The most memorable example he came across was São Paulo, Brazil – "the largest and most miserable slum in the world," said Glen. (With an urban population of nearly 20 million, this city of sparkling office towers suffers a paralysis of poverty and despair.)

"A group of citizens living in this blighted area thought they could do something to help," Glen said. "They considered providing food parcels, clothing packages, health clinics; but this had all been attempted by others and hadn't seemed to improve anything. They decided to arrange a celebration, a free festival of the arts, using indigenous artists, and offer it as a gift to the people."

A skeptical regional council eventually granted its approval, Glen said. "The group began recruiting performers – folk groups, dancing groups, singers, bands – all united by their sense of community and by their eagerness to show what they could do."

The day-long festival lasted into the night, with thousands singing and dancing.

Afterward, the once-skeptical regional council met with the group of citizens and praised them for their initiative: "You have given these people a gift they will always remember, an experience of joy and happiness. You have brought beauty into their lives."

If, as Glen pointed out, music and dance can make a more wonderful world for some, then gardens do the same for others. From Edmonton, Barbara Stevens, wheelchair-bound because of post-polio syndrome, sent this note:

YES, WARREN, it is indeed a wonderful world. My daily 'world' is now restricted to our back deck. Along the rail are six planters full of nasturtiums, snowflakes, Martha Washington geraniums, portulacas, miniature dahlias and our favorite, pansies. They are like an artist's palette ringing the deck with their beautiful colors.

On stands, there are two velvety petunia plants which complement the one in a hanging basket. From the bed at ground level, stately delphiniums show off their blue spikes through the deck rails, and soon exotic sunflowers will add to the display.

Insects and bees flit around the flowers all day; and on a few mornings, we have been graced by the beauty of Painted Lady butterflies. The birds serenade me and amuse me when they flit about the yard in a game of tag or splash about in the bird bath. The ever-changing clouds overhead capture my imagination and I revert to the childhood game of finding shapes that resemble earthbound sights.

From the comfort of my deck, I while away the hours in waking meditation, admiring the handiwork of God and giving Him thanks for all the good things in my life. For me, it is indeed a wonderful world, and I am truly blessed to be able to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells around me. Life is good! Thanks for the reminder.

—Barbara Stevens, Edmonton

AND THANK YOU, Glen and Barbara. As Satchmo suggested, you've given the world a chance and rejoiced in its beauty.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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