Erin Hansen, 51, at the Waldorf School of Bend

Erin Hansen, 51, at the Waldorf School of Bend

I reached my goal of making 50 stories this first year, so this interview with Erin marks the first of the next batch. I'm going to dig a bit deeper by asking more challenging questions in hopes of gaining more understanding about each of us. I came to know Erin through Megan, as they work together at the Waldorf School of Bend. We sat in a quiet and very lovely classroom in a couple of rocking chairs while piano music from a practicing student in another room faintly serenaded us. Erin is a force of good and kindness. Speaking with her was calming and somehow even reassuring. She has a wonderful passion for bringing people together through art and it was a delight to talk with her about it.

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

My name is Erin Hansen and I am the mother of two amazing boys. I'm married to a phenomenal man - partner, best friend. I would consider myself a community artist and activist with huge emphasis on community. 

What does community mean to you?

Community means bringing people together over an impulse, an idea, an inspiration. And building upon that. So, what can manifest out of a conversation, a project, a meeting, a talk, music, an interaction? You know, we all bring our own personalities to a group dynamic and we all leave, generally, with something much different than what we walked in with. And, to me, that's the power of community. You're transformed, whether you're conscious of it or not. Whenever people come together, there's always great opportunity for transformation. 

How does your draw towards community play into where you come from?

We've been a military family. My husband was in the military for 26 years, so we would moved every year and a half to two years. So, you essentially have to reinvent yourself every two years. And finding community wherever you land is real important just to integrate into where you're living. Within the military community, it's fairly easy because we're all transient. We all look to each other to build this kind of external family. So, when Darren decided to retire and move here, it was really kind of rebuilding who we are as a family and how we integrate. To me it was really important to finally, you know, put some roots down and get engrained into what's going on and what we're looking for as a family, as individuals. And then the greater community of Bend and the state of Oregon and it all moves out from there. The big impulse around creating and finding community was... although we've had an amazing one, it wasn't one that I could get my hands on or into for very long, and so when we got here I just hit the ground running (laughs). 

What is your view of the future and how do you instill hope? 

One of the things I always fall back on is that life really is beautiful. Just look at this classroom or just look outside. Look to our little town of Bend - how beautiful it is to be living here. We lose sight of that. And that's just a very external example. I look to the bright beauty of children. Being a mom is, to me, a privilege and I look at both my boys and I see unlimited potential. And so, for me, the drive and the impetus is to keep that accessible for them. And if I am constantly down in the dumps or This is terrible! - I mean we all have those moments, but I also think A) how we recover from them and B) how we talk about it with our children and with our friends and with our family and our extended circles. To me, that's the access. That's the access to how we make things better.

What motivates you? 

I draw a tremendous amount of inspiration from reminding people and showing people things that are beautiful. One of my great passions, especially here at the school, is creating community art. When you first start a project, things are messy and things aren't put together. You know, there are elements and there's the stress of bringing kids and parents and external beings in - whether it be friends, family, or people who are helping to support whatever the project is. And it's always messy. And it's always like, Oh, geez! Is this one gonna work (laughsor not? And then there's always magic. There is some point where magic happens and it all comes together. And you stand back and you go, Wow! That is amazing! I was part of that. Here's my brushstroke. Here's my thread and needle. Here's my name. Here's how I contributed. To me, that's a really, really powerful experience. For everyone. We had an art opening last month. The kids all worked on their projects in the classroom and with their parents and with their teachers and then we presented them in a very professional atmosphere and environment and things were beautiful. And the kids walked in and they were like, Wow! This is amazing! You know? And they had created it. And in that moment they had access. A lot of it is subconscious, I think sometimes especially with younger children. But they had access to I did that. That was mine. And we did it with a lot of hands. And we did it with a lot of support. So, bringing beauty in some form or fashion into the world is truly what lights me up. 

What do we do about social injustice? What's your role in that?  

As an adult and certainly as a parent and as a role model, living in a way that meets that in such a way that it's not acceptable. I teach my boys all the time. That's not acceptable. That person did that and that is their choice and that is their path in life and it was a bad decision. But in my world and in my experience and in how I choose to communicate with people, that wouldn't be acceptable. I would have left the job. I would have called the lawyer. I would have taken the actions necessary to not allow that type of behavior or that type of modeling to be apparent. I think as human beings we all cross those bridges where it's easier to look the other way. But I think right now that's why we all have headaches (laughs) and are slumped over. Just in general. Because we are so weighed down with just so much negativity out there. It's funny. Just to look at people. We don't sit up straight anymore. We don't look people in the eye anymore. That's one of the interesting transformations I've noticed in Bend. You know, when we first moved here five years ago, walking down Wall or Bond or the riverwalk, people would meet you in the eyes and you would get a warm smile and a Hi! or a How's it going? And lately I've really noticed everyone's just got their head down and their earbuds in and, you know, you could be Frankenstein and they wouldn't even notice (laughs). I'm starting to see a little bit of a cultural shift. We really purport about how nice and friendly and kind and wonderful we are in this community, but I'm also noticing that we don't call each other out anymore around that. I think all we can ever do is just be the best human being we can possibly be in the moment. Sometimes we rise to that and sometimes we don't. And I think as long as we can own it when we don't and look at how we can maybe circle back around and do it better the next time... to me that's the spiral of how you evolve or move through life more powerfully. You know, we never do it right the first time. (Laughs) You know? It's like Ooooh, I didn't do that right? How could I do it better the next time? 

What do you wish for the future?

I wish for a slower future. I wish that we would learn to take deeper breaths and longer pauses. Longer walks (laughs). You know, just lengthen everything once again. People think that's funny because of technology and everything's going faster, faster, faster, faster. To me, that is the downfall of society. It really and truly is. Because we miss so much. We miss so much. If I could wave a wand and cast it out into the future, we'd all kind of just be stuck in slow motion. Because in that way and in that realm, we don't miss things. We have to take the time to cultivate things, to create things, to grow things, to nurture things. Which I think we're missing out on a whole lot of. 

Do you have any parting words?

Yeah. One of the first and most important acts of building community or connecting with somebody is to meet somebody with your eyes. It truly is like opening this beautiful, golden door to a relationship. And it doesn't have to be anything deep or intense or meaningful, but if I connect with you and you connect with me, then we both walk away with something. As opposed to completely missing out on each other. That's what I'm hopeful for a lot more of and something I really take on doing throughout the day.