“We were together. I forget the rest.” (Walt Whitman)
If I were asked to use one word to describe the faculty where I work, “diverse” would pretty much capture us. Every day, international and Canadian-born students and staff come together to learn, to teach, to research, to administer programs, to provide security, and food, and cleaning services. Because we’re located in Edmonton’s rapidly changing downtown core, we mingle with the general public – some of them visiting the public library, which shares our building; others cutting through to access nearby restaurants and shops, still others just hanging out, looking for a warm and welcoming space to spend their time.
Like all communities, we have days when our complex and sometimes competing needs and priorities overwhelm our best attempts to get along, when faulty assumptions, miscommunication and misunderstandings put us at odds with each other.
Today was not one of those days.
In honor of the lunar New Year – we have many students from China studying in our faculty, and people of Chinese heritage make up seven per cent of our city’s population – we gathered in the atrium of our building to eat, play games, make decorations, and talk. A visiting Uruguayan professor introduced his wife and daughter to one of our Argentinian-born instructors, who had brought her daughters to enjoy the fun. Students from Africa and Japan crafted paper lanterns together. A husband and wife from Kazakhstan, enrolled in English language classes, chattered in Russian and giggled as they tried to pick up marbles with chopsticks.
Suddenly, all our conversations were drowned out by raucous drumming, clashing cymbals, and the appearance of two dancing lions. A little girl shrieked with delight as one of the lions paused in front of her for a pat. A group of Indigenous students abandoned their tables and their pizza to capture the spectacle on their phones. The rest of us craned our necks for a better view of the lions’ antics, one moment whirling with gaping mouths to face the crowd, the next fluttering their gigantic eyelashes, the next butting heads in mock challenge of each other.
At last the drumming reached a crescendo and the lions unfurled banners wishing us all a happy new year. Our applause followed them as they danced away. “I’ve seen a lot of lion dances in this building over the years,”sighed one of the English language instructors, “but that was the best one ever.”
In ancient Chinese culture, lions were viewed as powerful and wise animals, able to chase away evil, and make way for happiness. Judging by the way we lingered together after the celebration, still enjoying each other’s company, maybe we had all been reminded that, in spite of our differences, those lion-like qualities live in each of us. We just need to let them out to dance a little more often.