On a warm weekend in July, a Red Tent was raised at the Culture Fest in Salem, MA. I attended for a few hours in support of my friend, Natalie Johnsen (featured in the Red Tent Movie), who played hostess for the Red Tent throughout the two days it was up.
The tent itself stood out from the others: red amidst the white. The entire inside seemed to glow red from the reflection of so many pieces of red fabric which had been draped over three of the tent’s sides. There were red-draped chairs, red-covered tables, red pillows and rolled-up blankets on the ground.
This Red Tent had multiple purposes. One was to provide for those who wished a space for respite, shade, and refreshment (ice cubes, iced tea, and cold gazpacho were available). Anyone could enter and sit for as long as he or she liked. Another purpose was to educate and increase visibility for the Red Tent. Men were welcome to come and learn. Another purpose was to create soulful space where lively conversation might happen.
I entered the Red Tent after it had already been up for several hours that Saturday. I sat, watched, and listened.
The space was witness to conversations ranging from intimate asking for support to a group discussion of hair and what the connection might be between cutting off one’s hair and releasing the hold of old memories. A few men stopped by. Women came and seemed delighted that such a space was there.
At one point I found myself writing in a book in which women at various times had recorded their lineage through the women in their family. I paged through and read names, read women’s writing about why they had come to the Red Tent. It was a profound thing to write my name, and then my mother’s, and then my grandmother’s, and then (after a long pause in which I struggled to remember it) my great-grandmother’s. No matter who these women were, no matter what they had or hadn’t done, their lives allowed mine to be. I wrote my own dedication: I knew in that moment that I had come to the Red Tent to affirm my life.
Eventually, that day, I left, appreciative of what had been. What a radical thing it is to simply offer space where one may be nourished without needing to be any particular way. Natalie, with her open eyes and open arms, held this space beautifully for all who came, whether they had ever heard of the Red Tent before or not. Although it was an unconventional Red Tent, it was the Red Tent at its best.