Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lay Your Comfort Down

This time it was the old ring play Johnny Brown that ended the course. “Show us your motion, Johnny Brown,” we sang with all the accumulated soul of five days of jazz immersion and each person in turn did. We watched them dance and then we gave it back to them, mirroring and amplifying their beauty and character. At the end, we sang in full voice, “Little Johnny Brown, lay your comfort down!” and felt the profound silence after the last jingle of the tambourine. Arms around our backs, the circle tightened and I said,

“Do you know Linus from Peanuts? He walks around with his security blanket to comfort him, to protect him against the terror and cruelty of the world. But these five days in this brightly-lit gym in a Vancouver elementary school, we created a sacred space, a magic circle where we gave each other permission and encouragement to lay our comfort down. We stepped timidly and then more and more boldly into the unknown, testing the ground for quicksand, and always found it solid, supported by each other. And so we shed our fears and plunged into a gutsy French horn blues solo, a hot Latin jazz flute solo, a swingin’ clarinet solo, a sweet glockenspiel solo. We put our fingers down on the treacherous paths of piano-key chord changes and made it through without getting too tangled in the undergrowth.

“We can lay our comfort down because we are each other’s comfort. And so shall we be the comfort of the children we are about to teach, the tender souls delivered to our care. Because we have known the deep joy of being encouraged and celebrated and invited to risk, we have the possibility of doing the same for our children. We may forget and fall back to the tired old routines of judgment, of labeling and sorting. We may start to listen to the experts and forget our own intuitions. We may find ourselves caring more about the correct notes than the children struggling to play them. But because of this week, we have the possibility of remembering. We indeed laid our comfort down, showed our motions, saw it reflected back to us and wasn’t it marvelous?”

And indeed it was. It took 30 hours to go that deep and reach that high and I had the supreme good fortune of also sharing that 30-hour sacred space with my Level III class and again with my Jazz class in San Francisco this summer. 62 people who showed each other their motion and every one of them a marvel. And then another 300 or so people in Madrid and Salzburg who got a peek into that world in our four or five hours together, another few hundred with my colleagues teaching Level I, II and World Music, another 400 hundred who got to see our kids perform and see what love looks like for 12, 13, 14 year olds and their teachers.

In the big picture, 62 people is a small drop in the desire to improve the world, but really, such transformation doesn’t come in a single song or dance. It takes time, it takes intimacy, it takes trust, it takes the presence of the ones who have come before and the commitment to the ones who will come after. I did get some summer beach time and family time and that too is unequivocally vital, but I treasured every second of the dancing circles where comforts were laid down one by one. Thank you to all—or should I simply repeat my new mantra? Happy. Thank you. More please. 

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