If I had the opportunity to gift-wrap and send down the chimney one gift to every living and breathing creature in this world, it would be the opportunity to live through two days like the ones I just had. Thursday was the miracle of a two-hour run through of the Christmas Carol play tightened up to one-hour, performed that afternoon (along with the 3rd grade The Prince and the Pauper) for the whole school and yet again that evening with such joy, skill, character development, breathtaking music and dance, humor, moments of unbridled hilarity and sublime quiet, that the audience—from the 3-year olds to the 83 year-olds— forgot that they were watching kids in a school play and were brought wholly into the story. In the interval between the afternoon and evening performance, the Interns took a ride with “Uncle Dougie” through some highlights of holiday-decorated San Francisco, getting out at the stunning Tom and Jerry house on 21st near Church, returning to Twin Peaks where we stood four months ago to look out at the sparkling city and marvel at all that we lived through this Fall. A dinner at a school staff member’s house, the plays, post-play food and drink and sharing the wonders of the evening at Ye Ole Clam House.
And then Friday. Striking the set, sorting and folding some 60 costumes, off downtown to ice-skating with the kids, 8th graders holding the hands of wobbly 1st graders, the ice version of the Hokey-Pokey (long time tradition), back for a final pre-school singing, two versions of the St. George and the Dragon play (a 29-year school tradition) and then gathering in school families in low lighting for 30 glorious minutes of 200 kids voices raised in song—and singing so beautifully in tune with Spirit flaming out of each note. Before the final song, a teary formal farewell to Bekki, Kato, Mary and Sandra, our hard-working, loving, fun and musical music Interns getting ready to carry the sparks of the best of the school and the kids back to Germany, the Philippines, New Hampshire and Colombia.
And then ending with a version of Angels We Have Heard on High that would have melted the hardest of Bah-Humbug hearts to anyone lucky enough to be there to listen. We were the angels singing in our high-head voices, sweetly singing o’er the room and sending the echoes out into a world in dire need of healing and redemption. And off we went straight into the glorious Glorias proclaiming the miraculous birth that a two-thousand year-old story is meant to remind us of if only we could stop taking it so literally. The “in excelsis Deo God-in-the-highest” is to be found in the lowly straw-filled animal-warmed love-surrounded manger of our own hearts, the star in the East is that “little light of mine that I’m gonna let shine,” and the Wise Men bearing gifts is our own intelligent choices to honor the miracle that we are, each and every one of us. The moment we say there’s no room at the inn for another unless they agree to be exactly like us we go from blessing to blasphemy and the lights go out and the Wise Men turn away with gifts in hand.
A moment of silence after the last ringing note, my ritual “See you next year!” farewell and then—carpool! Followed by a staff gathering and a hilarious White Elephant game, complete with an actual white elephant teapot and a memorable 20-times-stolen wooden salad bowl. Out to the movie “Trumbo” at night and aaaargh, there it was again, people who live by fear with the power to harm and hurt, blasting instead of blessing, filling up the holes in their souls with explosions, be they hateful hurtful Hedda-Hopper-words or gunpowder, trampling good people’s bliss and always the saddest to me, all the bystanders letting it go on, letting fear win out by their silence and complicity.
I know it’s probably naïve and simplistic, but I stand by my conviction that had Joe McCarthy or Ronal Reagan or Donald Trump gone to The San Francisco School and felt the power of beauty far outshining the power of fear, there’s at least a chance their Scrooge-twisted-Grinch-enclosed-hearts and minds might have relaxed their grip just a bit and helped them feel what true belonging is.
And whether or not that is true, still the work proceeds. “Blessing” may be a state of grace beyond human will, but it is also a verb that requires constant attention, intention, practice and muscle. None of that singing could have worked its magic without the details— committing to a school music program, training the voice, training the body, training the mind, dedicating yourself far beyond any written job description to “whatever it takes,” keeping the heights of imagination in company with folding costumes and knowing where the triangle beater is, spending four hours writing program notes that most will read in one minute, if they even choose to read it at all. And on and on and on. The only path to bliss and the ability to bless and be blessed is relentless, hard, challenging, exhausting work that requires 150% of us. And accent on “us”—not the solitary genius in the practice room or sitting isolated in the office cubicle (though solitude is a necessary companion), but the commitment to collaboration with all the stepped-on-toes that happen next to the smooth dance moves with the partners.
Today, a final farewell brunch of appreciation with the Interns and then off to the airport to pick-up the grandchildren and get ready for the next week of divine madness. More bliss, more blessings.
Joseph Campbell said: Follow your bliss.
W.B. Yeats said: We must laugh and we must sing. We are blest by everything. Everything we look upon is blest.
And of course, Tiny Tim: God bless us every one!