Sunday, June 7, 2020

Life, Death, Marriage, Farewell

I think it’s safe to say that these last week or so has been the most intense of my life. Picture a birth, marriage, anniversary, death-bed farewells, funeral, happening all at once. Imagine living almost a half-century yet again through remembrance, photos, writings while continuing to teach the daily classes and attend the meetings and gatherings while arranging on the calendar the new future that awaits. Never before have I felt the past, present and future so vividly interwoven. All of this against the backdrop of the continued pandemic, the explosion of outrage from the next black life that didn’t matter to the usual folks and suddenly mattered to an extraordinary number of folks who never seemed to care that much before. And then the expected lies, spins and fascist response far beyond what our crumbling country has yet seen. It has not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.

I thought I was ready to give up the idea of a ceremonial farewell to a place that has never been just a place, to a job that has never been just a job, to a way of living that has never just been “whatever.” Postpone it to some party in the Fall—or Winter—or Spring—or never. But I should have known enough about life and ritual and myth to understand that a ceremonial moment is not an interchangeable date on a calendar, but a point in time that is needed in that particular time and will never come again. It was understandable in the wake of the intensity of what’s going down that no one else was going to take that moment to honor the occasion as I have honored it for so many that have arrived here before me. Understandable and may I be honest, also deeply sad. Was I not worthy?

But being who I am and knowing what I need and drawing from my own practiced skills in the area, I created the occasions for myself. Put together a slide show for the alums I’ve been singing with and gave a 15 minutes farewell talk. Then put together another slide show, this one with music, songs, stories and poems for the parents in the school, an hour goodbye composition that took me some 10 hours to prepare. In the closing ceremony at school, I prepared another 1 minute farewell to the kids, alongside my two teacher comrades also retiring after 31 and 33 years at school. And now I’m preparing another farewell, this one to the school staff at our last meeting on Tuesday. And so I have orchestrated a slow-motion “my life flashing before my eyes” in just a week or so and it was a beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking and heart-opening trip to take.

But the present moment was always still nipping at my heels and so I continued with the online alumni sing, the live neighborhood sing, my Canadian online Orff class, an online body percussion class with teachers in Minnesota, my last class of 45 years of classes (online, of course, and with the 5-year olds), the 8thgrade sharings, the faculty-8thgrade trivia contest (instead of the usual basketball game), the final school closing ceremony with me “broadcasting” alone in my beloved music room, the 8thgrade graduation driving to three kids’ houses and proclaiming from the street the praise and blessings they had earned and yesterday, a 3-hour online Orff course with people in Russia, followed by an online celebration of alums graduating from high school. Like I said, a rather intense week.

But on top of it all, there was the needed preparation for the future. Organizing this Russia course while also planning other June online courses, one about my new book, one about jazz. Responding to invitations from Hong Kong , Armenia and Iran. Overseeing my Orff summer course faculty’s offerings for the summer and getting the word out. Planning a July family trip to Michigan in an RV. Life goes on. 

As a writer devoted to witnessing, reporting and trying to gather some sense of meaning and order to the avalanche of lived experience, I hope to take a couple of days to share parts of it in the way that I do. Stay tuned. 

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