Two years ago, I attended the first annual Muse Conference in Bend, Oregon - an inspiring three day event that celebrates women who are catalysts for change across the globe. One of the speakers Jensine Larsen, founder of the incredible organization World Pulse, shared the story of meeting a woman from the Congo who had endured & witnessed more atrocities on a weekly basis than most do in a lifetime. The woman told Jensine that she pictured most Westerners as sitting in a big, imaginary chair of cultural comfort, with our backs turned away from them. And all she and the women in her village asked of us was to simply turn around and face them. To hear their story, even if we remain in our chairs while we listen.
This story of the Congolese woman was on my mind several months ago when Atin and Mae approached me to do a painting for their upcoming documentary Bulbul: Song of the Nightingale. I was already very behind on commissions and wasn't sure I should commit to another...
...Until I watched the trailer.
I listened to the story of 12-year-old Bulbul, born into the Banchara tribe at the bottom of the Indian caste system. In this community young girls are expected to earn money for their family through either a large dowry or the bleaker alternative of becoming a prostitute. The documentary explores Bulbul's story, including her "relationships and encounters with the constellation of women whose lives are close to her own that provide her with conceivable options for becoming a woman, painting a picture of the road that her future will take and why."
After watching the four minute trailer I knew I had to say yes. I knew it was a way - however small - to turn my chair around and face Bulbul. To acknowledge her not only as a fellow woman, but as a fellow human being. To listen to her story and perhaps help others to do the same.
Nineteenth century abolitionist and reformer Theodore Parker once said: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
Like Parker, I do not pretend to understand the arc of the moral universe. Nor do I pretend to understand why I was born into such comfort, while so many others have to fight for their most basic human rights.
When I think of the stories of the Congolese women or the reality of a 12-year-old facing a life of prostitution, the arc of morality feels agonizingly long.
But I still believe that with the work of people like Jensine, and Atin, and Mae - and anyone willing to turn their chair and listen - it does indeed bend towards justice.