Our Theme Was China
Even though the Chinese New Year is over two weeks away, this theme was a fun one to welcome 2014 with the Quilt Groups. As always, I packed way more than needed...3 bags worth of props and books. I wasn't sure which direction I'd go with my 5 groups this week, since the ages would range from 2 to 95! But in truth, I think I would have gotten along fine with just one prop.
The Other Stuff
The hats, chopsticks, books and dolls did end up promoting a little laughter, though!
We had a lot of fun with all the stuff. Chopsticks are always a hit. Yarn makes a very good Chinese noodle. It also promotes a lot of success with chopsticks, which can be sort of frustrating. I think Mr. Ming, who is from China knew better than to attempt trying to teach anyone. We had more fun watching all the creative approaches to lifting the noodles with the sticks!
Visitors Join In!
Maybe it was the noise of the gong or laughing over chopsticks, but we we seemed to attract a few extra visitors. The most special guest, was our sweet baby visitor. She was definitely more exciting than the gong! Cristina and Paul are staff members who often come join the fun in two of my favorite groups. They always add some laughter and energy! None of our visitors were Chinese, but they each shared knowledge of Lunar New Year celebrations with their Asian heritages which include, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan.
Others Share Their Knowledge
I had a piece of Chinese fabric with writing I couldn't read. What a treat to have Mr. Ming with us, to read the characters for love and dream and blessing! In another group, my little clay head (bought for 5 dollars when a nearby museum closed) started up a great discussion. There were two in my gathering at the skilled nursing facility who had been to China. They had both visited Xi'an, home of the world's most astonishing archaeological find... an army of 8,000 life size clay warriors, created over 2,000 years ago! What a treat to have my group teaching me!
Unlike most of our themes, China is not one that all can immediately relate to. Many of my seniors have never traveled outside of Texas and have little knowledge of Asian customs or history. But when I played a recording of some traditional Chinese music, many perked up with memories of Chinese restaurants and the foods they remember eating there. We had an amusing discussion about the lame fortunes in fortune cookies!
In one group I had 3 seniors who grew up in New York. It was delightful hearing their recollections of the 30's and '40s in their neighborhoods of Long Island, Manhattan and The Bronx. They each remembered visiting Chinatown and one recalled the layer of firecracker and confetti debris on the streets after the Chinese New Year. Ken, who grew up in the Bronx remembered the Chinese laundries. "They were on every corner!" He said there were some political frictions as well as too much competition. "They just didn't get along with each other..." until some kind of a union was finally formed. He talked about how hard they worked. "They weren't afraid to work. They would iron into the night!" He told another sweet story about eating delicious lychee nuts that were given to his father by the owner of a nearby Chinese Laundry. My mouth was watering for Kung Pao Chicken and eggrolls by the time our group ended.
Back to the Gong
But it really was the gong that was the spotlight of each group. Since we had talked earlier about boring fortunes in cookies, I put on my glasses and dramatically imagined I was reading the ideal fortune. "You will receive 20 million dollars, which will allow you to travel to all parts of the world...your health will be excellent and you will lose 10 pounds!" I rambled on with a bit of humor, then announced. "I'll gong to that!" I made my words light, because pondering over New Year's resolutions with anyone, especially seniors can be worrisome. I wanted to keep things positive and playful, but when I tapped the gong, I was surprised at how that magical hum seemed to change the mood of the whole room. While that gong continued to vibrate, the bodies in the room leaned forward and faces smiled towards the sound until it disappeared.
Fortunes and Wishes
In all the groups we took time to share our wishes and fortunes followed by a tap on the gong. Each person had a chance to share their thought, or to keep it to themselves...like birthday candle wishes. Each took the mallet and with the soft round end tapped the gong after their words. Even though I started each group in a sort of playful way, avoiding heaviness that some need to avoid, the shared thoughts always ended up being more generous and thoughtful than I ever expected. Many wished for good health which is always touching to hear from folks sitting in wheelchairs. And only one tapped the gong while keeping the thought to himself. One woman smiled a knowing smile when she shared, "My good fortune would be that 2 new babies will come into my family." One wished for good fortune for her parents. We didn't worry that these parents are long gone. "I bet they were wonderful!" I cheered. "Let's hear that gong ringing for your parents!" Another wished, "I hope my good fortune allows all the good things that happened last year, to happen again." And another smiled with this thought," "My good wish is that I am just here." I felt a moment of worry to hear these words, "There is something I have that keeps me from doing what I want to do. My good fortune is for that to go away." I wondered to myself what that might be, but just cheered on, "Gong it hard for that one, Jean!" and we all smiled. And then the tiniest and feistiest at our table took her turn. With a raspy voice that matches her bold personality, she announced firmly, "My good fortune for this year, is that there will be no more wars." I didn't hide my grin as I handed her the mallet. She paused and added "We need to keep our young people. Our young people should just be educated." I grinned bigger as I held the hefty gong in front of her. She slammed that tiny mallet into the dead center of the gong. The sound about knocked us off our chairs. The group recovered with laughter and applause. "I think you may have just done it!" I laughed. "You may have just put an end to war!"
Kids and the Gong
On Friday I met with my last group. The kids at the Shelter were vibrating with Friday energy. It was lucky I had something as intriguing as a gong because I needed bribery to get any sort of order. "Hey now!" All I had to do was hold up my giant, metal, bulls-eye gong. "If you want a turn with this, you have to sit on blue!" (the quilt's border) Even squirmy, wiggly "J" froze himself onto the blue border waiting and watching.
"First we'll play a game. Stand up on the blue and when I hit the gong it will make a sound for a long time. Don't sit down till the sound stops!" They stood and waited with grins, but when I hit the gong, they giggled so loud they couldn't hear how the sound continued. I laughed at their reaction. They finally caught on and stood and vibrated right along with the gong, (they're good at that) and collapsed when the sound stopped.
After draining some more of their energy, jumping along with gong taps, they finally got their own turns. Never have I seen kids wait so patiently. They were mesmerized watching each other and listening to the variations of sound. Some hit with great gusto and others tapped tiny rhythms. When wiggly J got his turn, I prepared for a blast! I expected every ounce of that electric body to shoot through that gong. But he surprised us all as he gently tapped once and leaned in close to hear a sound, so soft and gentle. He smiled and repeated. Then carefully he reached for the strings and turned the gong so it was backwards. He tapped the back. Wiggly-Wild J turned out to be the most cautious and creative gong-er I'd had all week!
What I Learned: Power of the Gong! That's what I learned. I've had it for years, but I've never realized how empowered kids and adults seem to be by creating a sound with that beautiful instrument. There's so much I don't know about the history of gongs and the many uses for celebrations and rituals. But I saw for myself how the gong can be as soothing as it is powerful!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.