Yesterday I grocery shopped with a homemade burrito meal in mind. But alas, the avocados were not ripe! What's a burrito meal without guacamole? I bought them anyway, hoping that perhaps they’d be ready the next day. To urge them along, I put them in a paper bag with an apple. Someone once told me that aided the ripening process.
I’ve been checking them all morning to see how they’re doing. It’s looking like I might have to wait until tomorrow night. Fact is that you can’t hurry ripening. Everything proceeds at its own timetable. When it’s ready,it’s ready. When it’s not, it’s not.
Not too different from the kids I teach. I want them to come to every class perfectly formed and ready to fulfill my fantasy of the ideal student. But day after day, they insist on coming just as they are. And that means some are quite green in my particular subject and will take a long time to ripen. And often without warning. Like the pears in the Eddie Izzard comedy sketch from his show Definite Article: when he talks about how they’re either rock hard or too mushy, ripe for only 15 minutes: “You put them in the bowl at home, and they sit there, going, "No! No! Don't ripen yet, don't ripen yet. Wait til he goes out the room! Ripen! Now now now!" Sometimes kids seem like that—their 15 minutes for ripening in my music class passed when they were in math class.
Well, not quite. First off, we complex humans have hundreds of ripenings, each one specific. We have one “Aha!” moment in science class, a few years later, perhaps another in poetry class. We improvise a great glockenspiel solo one day and then dance with surprising beauty another day. Some ripenings feel like the confluence of several small ones, the moment when we suddenly feel like we fully inhabit our body, are wholly at peace with our particular way of thinking, finally open the heart to its largest dimension.
But the maddening thing as a teacher and as a student is that no one knows quite when it will happen. All we can do is walk the steps that aim toward ripening and hope for the best. Maybe a good teacher will partner us with an apple in a paper bag, but that’s about all the rushing the process allows. A few years ago, after having taught music for some 35 years, I finally decided to call myself a musician. After playing piano for 56 years, I decided today that I am going to claim myself as a pianist. For the first time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to practice some more piano and then check that bag to see if the avocados are ready yet.