Thursday, October 10, 2013

Joy and Obligation


Sometimes I start the day by reaching randomly for a book on my poetry shelves and opening to a page, hoping for some words that will give shape to my day. Today it was Pablo Neruda and a poem titled Summary that ended,

“My life was always singing its way between joy and obligation.”

Ah, there’s a theme. We all have our particular joys and we all have our common obligations— how do we make them meet? I’m reminded of the quote in my blog “mission statement,” about being “torn between my desire to improve the world and my desire to enjoy the world” (E.B. White). The Puritan in us is all obligation and duty, the social activist is all improvement, the old hippie or New Ager is all pleasure and balancing our biorhythms, the consumer all accumulating the toys and machines for our constant entertainment. How do we get these various selves to sit down and talk or to stand up and sing as they thread through the maze of play and work, joy and obligation?

No blueprint answer for all to follow, just the daily dialogue that we each have to create. All I can add to the conversation is the thought of finding the joys within the obligations, searching out the obligations within the joys. Doing my duty as a son to visit my Mom in her state of advanced dementia is my obligation. Playing piano for her or buying her ice cream as we sit out in the sun is my joy. Playing piano whenever and wherever I can is high on the list of my current joys. Searching out performance venues and organizing rehearsals for my Pentatonics group is my obligation. As is the mandate to actually practice and get it right. Teaching children is my pleasure, going to staff meetings my responsibility. In the teaching, I am constantly surprised to remember how much obligation lies inside of that contract— fine to spin out imaginative, fun and spirited classes, but then comes the hard work of reaching further to the kids who aren’t quite getting it— and letting me know in all sorts of socially dubious behavior.  And as for the staff meeting, an enticing snack makes the gathering more pleasurable, though I often think that we could do so much more to enliven things with an opening game or song or creative exercise.

Well, you get the idea. Today the piano beckons on the joyful side, 46 e-mails on the obligation side. Let the conversation begin!

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