Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"It Didn't Rain On Us!"

Yesterday, for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrated the summer solstice, the day the sun stands still, the longest day of the year. I've written before about how my family, many members of our school community, and the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, our school's new home, fill the streets with singing, dancing, frolicking, artful, bare-naked joy with its Solstice Parade and street fair.

It perhaps wasn't the classic solstice celebration this year. Being Seattle, our parade has often been threatened by rain, but this was the first time in anyone's memory that rain actually fell on us. Right up until our noon start it was raining pretty hard on those of us who gathered early. My daughter and I stood in the rain for well over an hour, the fruit tree under which we stood offering little protection. But then miraculously, just as the parade began, it ended. The sun didn't break through, but still . . .

The cool, wet day put a damper on our superhugger ensemble's usual turn-out, which has been as high as 80 in past years, leaving us with only about 40 red-caped heros of love, but that's still a lot of hugging potential. The parade crowd was probably only half of the 100,000 it reaches on a sunny day, but that still left us with a lot of potential hug-ees. And being a damp superhugger wasn't as bad as it might sound at first blush given that the people we were hugging were already soggy, and frankly if felt good too exchange a little body heat on this cool day.

The omens of rough seas had even been present the night before during the "midnight parade," when we move all of our man-powered (the parade does not permit printed words, corporate logos, or motors) floats to the parade starting point. The guys I was helping this year had a break-down with two of the casters coming loose, necessitating major roadside float repairs.

And still, despite the rain and the breakdowns, there were were in the streets singing, dancing, frolicking, making art, striping down, and sharing the kind of joy that can only be felt on the longest day of the year.

As we moved through the parade it occurred to me that what we do as superhuggers runs so counter to what one expects from parade art, which is usually about crowds of people looking at large things. Instead, what we do is create a series of small, personal moments, bubbles of intimacy in the middle of a spectacle. I tell the group as we set out, that the most important part of the hug is the eye contact both before and after. For the past couple years, I've been saying, "I love you," during that moment and it floors me how many of the these total strangers say it back to me.

When the parade pace picks up, I joke to the crowd that the hug I'm giving one person is to be "shared by everyone." This year, as soggy as they were, people didn't just laugh, they turned to the person next to them and passed it on. Several times as I looked back over my shoulder I saw my hug get passed all the way to the back row. Many of my current and former students were waiting for me along the route, shouting "Teacher Tom! Teacher Tom!" as I passed, arms reaching out to me. At one point one, right at the center of the universe, one of my colleagues tracked me down, took me by the arm and lead me back to a woman who was waiting in the street. She said, "I've had a hug from you for the past 4 years. Summer can't start without it."

At the end of the parade as thousands of exhausted paraders and audience members mingled together in Gas Works Park, we all marveled at the miracle of the rain stopping just as the parade began. "It never rains on the parade," we said. "What a great parade it was." My friend Michelle, a photographer, told me privately, "I was wiping drizzle off my lens all day." I answered, "Well, it didn't rain on us!"

This all took place on Saturday, in anticipation of the solstice. The actual "longest day" was yesterday.

The final stage of the parade is the dismantling of the floats on Sunday. Among the items left behind to be tossed into a dumpster was a youth-sized drum kit, complete with cymbal, high hat and snare drum. Instead I put that into the back of my car.

Yesterday the sky was blue on the actual first day of summer. And we celebrated by banging on those drums in the sun.

Happy solstice!

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