One of our students this week got the phone call we all dread. Her father, far away in Shanghai, had a stroke. We worked with her to change her ticket so she could rush home and miraculously found a flight with good times that was affordable. Off she went, only to call from the airport to report that because the flight had a short layover in Canada. The next flight technically left the next day (at 12:30 am!), so the rules said she needed a visa. And thus, they would not let her fly to Canada. Shame, shame, shame on those heartless robotic officers to let a pointless rule keep a daughter from seeing her father on his deathbed. She found something else and arrived too late—he had passed. Shame, shame, shame.
When we reconvened on Monday morning after a weekend of rest, we sang some “welcome back” songs and the Georgia Sea Islands spirited “Remember Me.” And then segued into our responsibility to remember those whose lives were intertwined with our own, to keep them alive in our thoughts and conversations, to live on their behalf, to learn to still be with them in new ways. After the song, I said a few words about this and how we in this culture keep trying to sweep death under the rug and rush to the brightly-lit malls and shop to avoid the necessary and long process of grief. And because we cannot grieve death, we also cannot amply praise life. We’re good at making fun of things, of having (or pretending to have) a nice day, but when it comes to looking the harsh facts of life and death square in the face, we build a wall in our hearts and make agreements with our neighbors that this is not to be discussed.
But not in our Orff Course. We had a collective moment of silence for our student’s loss and that allowed us to enter the week honestly, the joy that awaited more real and authentic because we were willing to feel the sorrow and sadness of loss.
Yesterday, a student of Mexican heritage came and thanked me and told me a sad story about two of her students who had been murdered by their father and her school’s inability and unwillingness to host a ceremony to acknowledge the event. She spoke of the 7-day funerals she attended in Mexico as a child, the laughter, tears and music and how strange it was to come to a country that wanted to get such things over with as soon as possible so they could go back to work. Later that day, a student of Mexican-Maya heritage spontaneously led a short ceremony after his fellow Level III teachers completed their practice teaching to collectively praise their efforts and successes.
And it struck me that the proposed wall between us and Mexico is symbolic of our fear of people who know how to live and love properly. The wall is already there, as it is inside those Canadian Immigration Officers and all those who want to untangle the joined branches of life and death. And that’s why so many wandering ghosts haunt our culture, all those who have not been properly grieved for. That’s why fear rules our decisions, that’s why the arts are seen as frills because it’s too scary to feel the way Mozart and Coltrane ask us to.
We pay lip service to events like the Fall of the Berlin Wall, but pay scant attention to the walls we’re building in the hearts and mind of children. So here we are in the Orff Course, tearing them down brick by brick and refusing to build the next one. Radical, necessary work. And that’s why we’re having so much damn fun!