Was it three or four young men who joined m for those sessions that year? Some things were in common. All of them were creative, artistic in their own rights. And all of them acted out aggressively when they were angry or frustrated. How could these boys be helped to manage the strength of their emotions in a world of systems and rules?
Our sessions began with a drawing lessons – a box of eight crayons, a limited medium with which to depict the world. Each crayon was given an emotion and as the first drawing progressed, I talked about the emotional connections I had with each colour. I pointedly avoided the black crayon. How many times they, and I, had been told that our angry wasn’t acceptable so since I labelled that crayon anger, I wouldn’t use it in the drawing for any reason.
I then began a second drawing. By then the boys were into the ideas of the colours having meaning and were suggesting the colours to use. They took my lead and carefully avoided black until the only colour not used was that black crayon.
It is then that I introduced that one last crayon. Black. Anger. What should I do with it? The tension and blankness was palpable in those young men as I introduced this emotion they had so often been taught was wrong. But it was a colour in my box. What could I do with it. So I demonstrated some ideas.
For the first drawing I talked about it building up and being allowed to get out of control. With abandon I scribbled black over the drawing I had so carefully worked on. The boys’ eyes nearly bugged out of their heads and their gasps were audible. I had ruined the picture. I couldn’t undo the damage I had done. That black, that anger, had destroyed something they had appreciated. Proof positive to them, anger was a harmful thing.
But then I took that second picture and I took that black crayon again. Only these time I used it were outlines and shadows would enhance the image I had created. The same black crayon that had been destructive became something that more clearly brought out the depth and clarity of the image.
It is the same with anger. I was often taught growing up that anger was sin. But when I read the Bible passages on anger, something stands out. I read to be angry and not sin. Anger is not the problem. What we do with it is. I don’t have to spend my energy pushing down what exists. I need to allow that anger to show me where a depth or clarity is missing in my life and work to correct that.
It is found in the actions of the Rosa Parks, the words of the Martin Luther Kings, in the changing understandings of Mandela that finally led to new recognition of disenfranchised people. It is Jesus in the temple seeing religion sold to those who could afford the price.
When one of the young man came and ask for a box of crayon and paper when he felt like exploding, I knew they had made the connection. That young man later wrote songs performed in assemblies and concerts. He had begun to understand the choices we can make with all we carry inside.
The anger that resides in me is not about as big an issue as any of these but there is within its depths a desire for justice and the right to be heard on behalf of others. Now it is my turn to decide what to do with this black crayon in my hand. It may not be clear right away how best to enhance the art of life with this creative tool, but if I am willing to take the time to step back and look at the whole picture, the answer will come. It will take patience and wisdom and a willingness to look within to the inner artist who sees beyond my limited outer vision.
What will you do with your black crayon when you hold it in your hand?