I first read Beowulf in my high school English class. Mr. Schauble handed out mimeographs printed on one of those old copy machines that made the words come out blue and blurry.
I don’t remember what he said about the story, or what part of the book he gave us. All I can recall is that I really loved Beowulf himself. Maybe I even had a crush on him. Here was this man, with such strength and good manners, that he could save an entire community of people from their oppressor. At the time I was willing to ignore that the oppressor, poor Grendel, was a bit of a victim himself.
There are men, Beowulf among them, widely believed to have the power to cure nations of their conflicts and to bring peace to our lives. These men may be real or fictional, supreme or failed, but in each case the man is at some point accepted as the person who will save the community.
It’s lovely to think about one who can save all. I’ve listened to Handel’s Messiah so many times, over so many years, I’ve memorized it.
But in practice, a different story guides my work. In Beloved by Toni Morrison, the community saves itself. In the moment of crisis in that book, the women of the town gather together and produce a noise so powerful that they are able to cleanse the community of its ills:
Building voice upon voice until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees.
Beowulf required a magic sword to purge the community’s water of its pollutant. These women did as much with a collective noise.
My hope is that CoLab Radio could, over time, be like the rising noise of the neighbor women in Beloved — a space where people could tell the stories of their places, person by person on a street, or step by step over the course of a project, until the collection is powerful enough to transform the place.