Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vocation and Vacation

And so on a crisp cloudy day in Baltimore, I finish my last workshops of my nine-week working vacation. Walk out of the windowless forced-air convention-center room with the rhythms of our final drum piece echoing in my ears and step out into the world. I walk down to the Harbor waterfront, where I have been before on other travels, and walk to a park overlooking the city, taking in the brick buildings so rare in San Francisco, the boats in the shimmering water, the people out strolling looking for the approaching Spring, the splash of color from the blooming forsythias and pink cherries. Suddenly, I’m talking to my father, four years gone from this world and tell him what I’m seeing. This is one of my promises to loved ones who have passed, to be their eyes and ears reporting the colors and shapes we have down here on earth, telling them the news, living in the world on their behalf. I never really did travel much with my dad, one of the regrets of our complicated (aren’t they all?) relationship. He had a certain fear of the world and preferred to walk the small steps of a safe and comfortable routine. Part of my life has been to travel beyond the borders of his ambit. Ambit is an old word that describes the limit of one’s reach and ambition stems from the attempt to move beyond that. I’ve been accused of being ambitious and why not? What is that Browning line?
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"

A good summary of my chosen life, constantly reaching beyond my limited grasp and likewise, a good maxim for the Orff approach to education. Indeed, calling it the Orff approach (not my phrase) is brilliant because it suggests we’re always approaching the horizon of mastery, but never reaching it. And that gives us something to do when we wake up in the morning.

Sitting in the park looking over Baltimore, overcome with gratitude for every minute of these last nine weeks where vacation and vocation have united. A new twist on the Robert Frost line from his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight…

And that has been true for me as well. Music, an avocation for many, is also my vocation. And sometimes my vacation. But now that’s over. In two days, I’ll be back at school in the same music room and walk the same halls that I have walked for 36 years, a different weight in my step (literally and figuratively!), carrying the actual stories of what I could only imagine way back then while working for the next miracle from the kids. It will be lovely to see them all again, but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention a mild resistance to the details of the workaday world—the intense schedule with little room to smell the roses, the meetings, the personalities and skewed relationships, the busy work, the meetings, the frustrations of compromised visions. Did I mention the meetings? The uniting of my vocation and vacation is a rarity and not wholly real as I gallop into town like the Lone Ranger, teach a class and go off into the distance waving “Hi ho Silver!!” (Okay, I recognize that only a few old-timers will relate to that image.) Now I have to tether the horse outside and stick around— for the after-school meeting.

But all of this makes me all the more grateful for the opportunity I’ve had these two months plus and this is as good a time as any to thank The San Francisco School for permitting such an arrangement, my colleagues Sofia and James for carrying on their stellar work with the kids, my wife Karen for keeping the home fires burning, all the course organizers for their hard work arranging the workshops, my travel agent Connie, the pilots who flew me safely, the hotels who gave me a bed to lie in, my daughters who helped set up this Web-log, my few faithful readers, and so on. It has been heavenly.

And speaking of Heaven (see Browning above), Frost finishes his poem like this:

Only where love and need are one
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

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