Yesterday, the Level III Orff students and I sat in a circle and drank copious amounts of Tear Water Tea. Like Arnold Lobel’s Owl in the children’s book of the same title, it tasted salty, but we found it to be very good. We boiled the water by singing heart-wrenching songs about birds leaving the nest and saying goodbye to friends and such, songs from the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Finland with exquisite melodies and harmonies that reached into the depths of the heart, alternating between major and minor to make clear that tears lived in both profound happiness and sadness all mixed up at once. Then we steeped the tea in the stories of each person’s journey to this moment of completing their three-summer journey.
And such stories! So many speaking of all the people who tell us we’re not good enough, we don’t measure up, we’re a C student. Or praised us for being good in the things that don’t matter—the good report card, the sexy body and pretty face, the perfect lesson plan that never saw the children. Or the teachers or friends or colleagues who simply ignored us, couldn’t see who we are and were not interested in finding out. Or those voices in our own head that tell us that we’re not worthy, that start to believe in “that defiling and disfiguring shape that the mirror of malicious eyes casts upon our eyes until we think that shape must be our shape” (Yeats).
And then the good fortune of stumbling into a community that is not there to judge, label, sort, or place us in the hierarchy of winners and losers, of cool and uncool, of the good, bad and ugly. A place where teachers give us permission to be beautiful and an invitation to discover precisely how we’re beautiful, far beyond the small choices of talented, sexy, fortunate or wealthy. Our beauty may be as small as an exquisite gesture at precisely the right moment in a dance choreography, a 30-second glockenspiel improvisation, as large as a Teleman recorder duet flawlessly performed or a stunning group composition of Taiko body percussion or a lesson taught with a flow and musicality equal to Beethoven or Miles Davis composition.
But the size and the form of the beauty don’t matter in any kind of hierarchical way. Beauty is not to be weighed and judged and compared. Our Orff course is not a Miss America Contest. What shape it takes is important for the person to know so they can see which thread to follow in their continuous unfolding, but ultimately that it happened is more important than how it happened. And more important than when it happened. Amidst many stories I told that opened my tear ducts wide was of the boy who was difficult in my class for 10 years and then burst into bloom in the 11th. A caterpillar for so long before he surprised me and himself when he woke up with wings. And so permission to be beautiful requires great patience on the part of the teacher and student, great faith that wings will sprout and always on their own timetable. All we can do is keep that faith and be patient. These things take time.
And so as we sat sipping our tea of communal tears, marveling at each story and what miracles were possible in a short six weeks spread out over three summers. Without exception, we could name the many wing-sprouting moments and publicly acknowledge and admire them. In-between our sobs and trips to the Kleenex box.
And now it’s over. These butterflies flying out back to the world with their fragile wings must search for a habitat where they can thrive. For some, it’s back to the world that mostly doesn’t care all that much and is more interested in pinning them to the classification board than feeling the breeze of their wings in flight. Back to the world where they have the responsibility of helping create a friendly habitat, at least in their own classroom if not their whole school. For they will now be in charge of the delicate souls of young children and have to find their own way to grant the young one permission be their beautiful selves in their own particularly beautiful ways. A great challenge and a worthy one. I wish them all well.
And to them all I say, “Remember to keep some Tear-water Tea close by. It’s a little salty, but always very good. Thanks for sharing it with me.”