Jan Warner on why she created of the ‘Resilience of the Human Spirit’ conference
My friends would call me resilient but I feel vulnerable and over sensitive, especially since the death of my husband. I thought we had much to learn from people who suffer the greatest atrocities yet manage not only survive but to live full, loving, creative lives. I actually googled poet Hiroshima, poet Rwanda genocide, poet Holocaust etc... What I found most astonishingly sad was that in terms of both genocide and political execution there were many choices. Do I choose some one from Vietnam or Cambodia? I left out Armenia. The beginning of the conference was a list honoring all the groups who had suffered genocide and political atrocities that were not represented. With Alison Granucci co-producing, a group of poets gathered at an inn. I wanted to treat people that the world had treated cruelly with great kindness. They arrived the night before the conference during a storm, most having been flown in first class. Before the dinner with the conference guests on their second night they could relax at the inn; read, have massages, go for a walk, whatever they chose. There were panels that had names such as Surviving the Unthinkable but they were told only one thing. Tell the truth. Whatever you have always wanted to say about your experience and felt that you could not: this is your chance. We had no idea what they would talk about. I heard that survivors of genocide often do not tell details because they are afraid the audience cannot handle it. They were told that people had come to hear their honest stories and they should not hold back anything. There were, in fact, times when member of the audience did leave but most stayed to listen. There was good food, good music, a beautiful setting and we listened to stories of resilience, survival and love. We listened to the poetry these artists had created; their pain inspiring them instead of paralyzing them. A haiku of a tree growing out bomb scarred earth. We laughed and cried together. In addition to their personal pain, panels were made up of people who might be considered enemies. A Holocaust survivor and a Palestinian. A Hiroshima survivor surrounded by Americans. Poets from Iran, Iraq and Kurdistan. In this setting they were kind to each other. The commonality of our humanity overcame our differences to make the conference a special place in time. Katja Esson graciously came to film the conference. She was inspired to make the exquisite film "Poetry of Resilience". Now my idea has not only the temporary life of a sunlit weekend where people gathered in peace and friendship but also the permanent life of a short documentary that preserves their artistry, humanity and resilience for all to see for all time. Thank you to survivors everywhere. There are so many grief warriors. I wish them all courage and a light to brighten the darkness; a way to find comfort in the happy memories to balance the pain of the cruel ones.