The headlines are so rife with bad news that even good stories are often tinged in sadness, vindictiveness or dread. It makes one not want to follow the news—as many of my die-hard political junkie friends have told me lately.

Uplifting news about the economy is countered by jobs that go wanting or the latest supply chain nightmare; great news about vaccine trials are shadowed by stories of those who continue to get caught in the virus’s clutches; the House finally passed the infrastructure bill but we are immediately reminded about intransigent Senate Republicans (and a couple of cantankerous Democrats), guaranteeing another long battle before desperately needed funding is assured for individuals, families and communities burdened by decades of inaction from Washington.

In the midst of all this, I found a story that captured my imagination and sent my spirit soaring about the world of possibility if we could but unleash the power of imagination within each of us. It is the tale of an amazing performance art project, monumental in scope and engagingly intimate in its effect.

It is called “The Walk” and was reported in the New York Times by Alex Marshall, Carlotta Gall and Elisabeth Poyoledo who write: The plot of “The Walk” was simple: Little [nine-year old] Amal had lost her mother, and was looking to find her. A company of puppeteers guide a 12 foot-tall puppet along a 5,000 mile journey from Turkey to England, engaging with a wide variety of audiences, some planned, some spontaneous in more than 140 stops in eight countries along the way.

The stops were at venues ranging from refugee camps to the Royal Opera House in London. Those would include theatrical spectacles, including a final event in Manchester, England, as well as spontaneous encounters, with Amal (whose name means hope in Arabic) simply walking through a city or village and seeing what happens.

As one who is a huge fan (and some times participant) in improvisational theatre and who understands both the triumphs and trauma in producing live events (even, on a couple of occasions, events with huge puppets)—I found this story fascinating on so many levels.

The reaction to the project was not universally positive. One could hardly expect it would be, given the polarization in our world and the animosity towards refugees in many quarters throughout Europe.  In some places, excited children (and adults) crowded around Amal and guided her way. In other places, she was pelted by eggs, fruit and even stones. In St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis reached out and held her hand.

But, at the Greek World Heritage site of Meteora, known for Orthodox monasteries perched upon towering rocks, Amal was meant to have a picnic with local children, the monasteries forming a scenic backdrop. But the local council banned the event by saying a “Muslim doll from Syria” shouldn’t be performing in a space important to Greek Orthodox believers. However, Amal’s religion has never been specified. This incident alone speaks volumes about our current human condition.

And so it went, from Turkey to England, a mix of reactions just like the mix of perspectives reflected in those headlines I sought to avoid. Still, there was something in this article that allowed me—for just a moment—to sit back, let my imagination go and experience the absolute wonder of it all. The writers captured Amal’s final encounter on her journey in this way:

In an outdoor arena in Manchester, as Little Amal took her final steps, she was surrounded by a flock of wooden puppet swallows. Then a burst of smoke appeared in front of her.

Onto it an image of a woman’s face shone, fleetingly. Then a gentle voice could be heard from the arena’s speakers.

Daughter, you’ve got so far — so very far away from home — and it’s cold, so stay warm,” the voice said in Arabic. “I’m proud of you.” It was Little Amal’s mother, now, apparently, a ghost or a memory. “Be kind to people,” she added, “and always remember where you came from.”

The 4,000-strong crowd turned toward Little Amal, who stood straight and defiant as the puppeteers pulled her up to full height. She seemed to take a deep breath, her chest rising, and exhaled. And then she strode forward, out into her new city, to try and build a new home.

The power of art to move the heart.

4 thoughts on “The Walk

  1. Oh wow.. I really got lost in that one, in a good way! I was thinking too that Amal is almost a Christ-like figure.. welcomed, celebrated, magnetic yet feared and misunderstood, misinterpreted. Powerful.. thank you! 😊

  2. Amal is the centerpiece of The Walk, a traveling arts festival, the latest project by London-based theater company Good Chance, in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company. Amir Nizar Zuabi, the artistic director of the project, calls it a “pilgrimage slash theater show.”

    NPR’s All Things Considered has an audio piece from Amir Nizar Zuabi’s full interview with Manoush Zomorodi for TED Radio Hour. The seven-minute conversation can be heard here:

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