Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Beginnings of Thanks


This year we had Grandparents Day before the Thanksgiving break. Usually, it’s in May around Spring Concert time, but Development wisely figured out that it’s better timing in November, just as the school kicks off its Annual Fund Drive. I can’t blame them. Though I’m usually wary of decisions driven by money, Grandparents are a good financial resource, they tend to be around before Thanksgiving and it turned out to be a festive time to have them at school.

It was perfect timing for my two 8th grade groups, both close to performance-ready pieces and now they had a ready audience as the grandparents arrived. One group played Shoo-Fly Pie, Watermelon Man and So What and the other group Ain’t She Sweet, Doug’s Blues (an original!) and Take Five. They played with a perfect blend of precision and creative zest, took solos with a mere 2 seconds warning and moved effortlessly between instruments in a way that warms my heart and impresses any alert audience members.

Then came the fabulous five-year olds and we simply played through our repertoire of games, songs and dances, again with a stirring combination of competence and pure joy. By the end, they choose an adult partner to bow, swing and do-si- do with and afterwards, one of the grandparents exclaimed, “That’s the most fun I’ve had in years!” On to the Community Center to watch and listen to Sofia work her magic with 3rd through 5th grade chorus and James share a fun vegetable song with all (including a blues-inflected solo by 2nd-grade Sam) and the obligatory Side by Side  with kids and grandparents joined in the  final song to cap off a memorable morning.

Friends, there is so much to be discouraged about and every reason in the world to be disheartened, outraged and cynical. Note the Ferguson verdict last night. Death and disaster, hatred and ignorance, people all over the planet hurting others with their heavy shoulders of power, bullets hurling out of guns sold by people making a profit, cruelty, narrow-mindedness, refusal after refusal to break the cycle of violence and just keep doing the same damn stupid thing time and again. What difference between the Ferguson verdict and the Emmet Till rigged jury half-a-century ago?

And yet. All I experience day after day is winged hope given feet and footed hope given wings in the children I teach. I mean, who is supposed to love 8th graders, for goodness sake? And yet I do, with a passion! They move me simply because they rise to the bar I set, time and again, and it’s a high bar that requires competence and confidence and a standard of excellence any school board would applaud. But it also requires humor, risk, vulnerability, pleasure, mutual support, hard questions and uneasy answers, all the stuff schools won’t touch because it would require teachers to admit their own frailty. Every class I watch them inch toward mastery and surprise me and their classmates and themselves with their mighty victories, their brave venture onto the dark path of improvisation on xylophone bars and the unexpected gold coins they uncover in their fearless search. When they play in ensemble, they’re listening to each other, connecting with each other, feeling the surge of beauty where each is a small part of the swirling motion of sound brought into clarity by the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck. Shall I go on? There is more praise and blessing awaiting words worthy of these fine young people, but wait, what about those five year olds and 4th graders and 6th graders I’m teaching as well? And the other grades in-between that I sing with daily. And the five fabulous interns who have been with us all Fall to witness, give and partake.

Imagine a cornucopia of Nature’s bounty overflowing with fruits and vegetables ripe with vibrant colors, sensuous textures, enticing smells and tantalizing tastes. That’s been my life teaching school this Fall and the only proper response is to bless it all and feel the blessing of it all, to properly thank everything in my life that led me to these moments of recognizing and releasing the abundant goodness in people, to feel grateful and renew my vows to both speak out against the horror while doing my part of build the bountiful beauty.

An appropriate way to edge toward Thanksgiving, where I have the privilege and pleasure of winging north to Portland (I’m writing this on Southwest Airlines en route to Portland, my daughter on one side, my wife on the other) where I get to see that 3-year old miracle Zadie after a too-long 3-months away from her. And my other radiant daughter and her husband awaiting my ukulele lessons and my teenage step-grandson and my nephew whose birthday is today and more. A bit sad to be away from my sister after having shared this day just about every year my whole life, but she’s opting to stay back with her two other sons. You can’t smell turkey on Skype, but maybe it will help a little bit on this first Thanksgiving without my Mom or Dad on the planet with us.

The plane begins its descent, I eagerly await Zadie’s hug and the beginning of tradition renewed and sauces stirred and turkey basted and good feeling in the brisk Portland air.
Nothing more to say but thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you. 

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