Stories Come to Life at Cocoon

By BEN BEESE

 

COURTESY PHOTO
Maria Del Sol Nava ’18 shared her journey on exploring passions.

The stage is set — or rather, it isn’t. The bare rug and single microphone frame a strikingly empty space. In the coming hours, this space will see death, love, fear, disappointment and a stoned man in the woods named Dave. This is Cocoon.

The show began with Sarah Asch ’19.5 and Elsa Rodriguez ’21 explaining the rules of this particular event, held Friday, Oct. 5 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts: storytellers have ten minutes to tell a story. And it must be true. Asch and Rodriguez, along with their co-organizers Adam Druckman ’19, John Schurer ’21, Zeinab Thiam ’21 and Mahaney Center Director Liza Sacheli, invited seven members of the greater Middlebury community, from students to a local farmer to a celebrity artist-in-residence and more, to speak to the night’s theme of “Origins.”

Asch and Rodriguez left the stage and so started the sometimes painful, sometimes joyous process of metamorphosing seven unknown faces into seven rich, disorienting, frightening, ecstatic narratives. That is to say, into seven very real lives.

Kyle Wright ’19.5 spoke of his starving, backcountry quest to grieve for his deceased younger brother. Jon Turner, of Wild Roots Farm, described his continual struggle with his father, exasperated by a long legacy of military involvement and his own experiences in the Gulf War. Maria Del Sol Nava ’18, now an admissions staff member, searched for her calling amid intense pressure to excel. Megan Job ’21 knew she could excel but struggled to maintain that conviction when her environment did not share it. Recent Middlebury retirees, Linda and Ira Schiffer, had to learn how to be parents while also being immigrants in Israel. François Clemmons, an artist-in-residence, sacrificed his love and sexuality for decades to protect “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” weathering a family that rejected him and a failed marriage in the process.

COURTESY PHOTO
Clemmons shared a story about starring in a children’s show as a closeted gay man.

Then, in the dark midst of these trials, there was a break in the clouds. Clemmons put on a wedding dress, raised a toast to himself, and shouted, “I’m finally the bride!” The Schiffer family returned from the Middle East, their children graduated (as Febs) and bravely traversed the world in two different circuses. Job burned the racism and discouragement she found as a freshman to fuel her powerful podcast “BLCKGRLMGC” (and she made the naysayers eat their words through her academic excellence). Del Sol Nava embraced the fire that her father and Rabbi Schiffer lit in her to continually pursue her passions. Turner left the army, fell in love, got married, started making peace with his now late father, and grew determined to give his kids the father he wished he’d had. Wright found that braving the elements in the woods could tell him how much he wanted a cheeseburger, but only coming home to his newborn sister would teach him how to boldly love despite a fear of loss.

In the end, we are our own stories. Struggles and victories define a person. Friday night, seven people — faces one might have seen on campus, driving down College Street, at Hannaford, or maybe never before — became real, four-dimensional people, struggling and rejoicing as much as anyone. It is rare to see another human, a stranger to most, in such completeness. The speakers at Cocoon communicated this completeness in only ten minutes. Ultimately, the event posed the question, “What is a life?” In doing so, the audience was led to ponder what events define their story and was reminded that everyone has just as complicated, messy and real a story as themselves. Life has no extras. These are, perhaps, points that ought to be posed more frequently, but at least one can thank Cocoon for making them in such an entertaining and emotional way as last Friday.

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Stories Come to Life at Cocoon