Here’s a happy confession to make—retired life suits me well. Of course, I’m still teaching, but instead of 7 classes a day with kids of all ages, I’m doing Zoom workshops with teachers (hopefully live in the not-too-distant future) and that feels gratifying that my life’s work can still be useful to people in my field. I can live without it, but the happiness it brings me and others, that sense of connecting people to the roots of their passion and in the live workshop, to each other so that after five minutes, a room of strangers feel like old friends—well, that is a gold I’m not willing to just store away in a vault. May it continue!
But equally pleasurable is the time to pursue the neglected parts of my possibilities. The six weeks with the grandchildren this summer. A bit more time at the piano, now shifting from Bach to jazz as I prepare for an upcoming concert. More daily exercise than I’ve had in my life, not the grunting-at-the-gym type, but combining increased muscle tone with the supreme pleasure of walking and/or biking around my fair city, exploring neighborhoods, sitting under trees in parks. More attention to cooking and dipping back to old recipes (vegetable pancakes from the Tassajara Breadbook holds up!). Reading one book, listening to another on Audible, keeping poetry close by. And always writing— soon the next book, now an article or two and always these Blogposts.
Most exciting, time to try new things, like the claw hammer banjo class where I'm finally learning a technique that has eluded me when I casually tried it before. After three classes, I’m actually improving! And herein lies music’s great lesson. That we will improve in the things we spend time with, consciously attend to, daily practice is as close a dependable truth as any I know.
And so I look ahead to things like snare drum technique, conga classes and when the COVID air clears, resuming bagpipe lessons and actually practicing this time around (though not clear where). Maybe take a poetry class or finally learn Portuguese or even consider classical piano lessons with a teacher who won’t let me get away with skipping over the hard parts.
In short, the world is large, our knowledge and skills are small and time exists so that we can grow bigger in all sorts of ways. Improve a bit in relationships as well as concrete tasks. Grow a little bit kinder, a bit more grateful, a bit more able to forgive, a bit more capable of blessing both ourselves and others. Mortality’s ticking clock is a reminder to get to work and take advantage of body parts that still work, mental parts that can still remember and think clearly— while we have them.
But we also need air we can breathe. We need hugs we can give and receive without fear of deadly disease. We need shelter that is not engulfed in flames or washed away in storms. We need a functioning planet to stand on so we can do this work.
And so amidst the daily pleasures of my habits of hopeful improvement, I need to attend to phone calls, texts and postcards to all those head-in-sand folks who don’t see the enormous threat this administration is to the health of the planet. They’ve proved it with the dysfunctional COVID response, the denial of climate change, the fanning of hate and the celebration of ignorance. We cannot afford another four years. Seriously. We need a planet to continue this work. None of our efforts at either self-improvement, social improvement or species-improvement can bear fruit if there’s no planet to sink our roots in.
And so I call on all the helping hands, in this world and the others, to pick up the pen or the phones, all listening ears to hear this, all functioning minds to consider how much is at stake. No point in working on my banjo if I can't be here to play it. Let’s go!