Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tear Water Tea

Do you know that marvelous children’s story by Arnold Lobel? Owl thinks of things to make him sad and fills a kettle up with his tears. Things like “chairs that have been forgetten, songs left unsung because the words have been forgotten, mornings no one saw because everybody was sleeping.” He then boils the water, serves it up in a cup and remarks, “It tastes a little salty. But tear water tea is always very good.”

The 100 plus teachers in our Orff training drank copious amounts in our closing ceremonies, but none of the salty water came from sadness alone. It was an exotic special blend of great joy, gratitude, love, new friendships formed, old ones deepened, seeds planted, flowers bloomed and the bittersweet moment of departure, of goodbyes, of—well, sadness that it had to end and life on the other side of miracles and music awaited with its cold, clothed and practical heart. After closing circles within each level, with their heartful confessions of old wounds beginning to heal, trepidation about the difficult task that lies ahead of sustaining transformation, story after story of the sense of finally arriving home, we moved into our graduation ceremony. I love the word saudade, that brilliant Brazilian term for bitter and sweet inextricably linked. Certainly, the Level III graduates felt the pride of accomplishment and the feeling of being at the doorstep of a profound understanding. But also the honest sense of the Orff Certificate as emblem of a true commencement, the sense of being ready to commence, to begin the real work. And the deep hole that awaits when next summer rolls around and Orff Camp is not on the calendar.

It was a particular moving graduation ceremony for me, for as I talked about each graduate, I was stunned to realize that I had a story with 18 of the 20 people before they even began Level I. Mostly people who had attended a workshop that myself or Sofia or both of us gave and had attracted our attention with that “where can I get more of this?” hunger in their eye. All we had to do was wave a beckoning finger toward San Francisco and lo and behold, they appeared. And so the deep satisfaction as my beckoning finger now invited them to step up and receive their diploma.

And then the closing song with three circles pressed closely together rising on the notes of Beethoven and the words of my mentor Avon Gillespie, “In living fully, one finds peace.” Truth be told, it is very hard to sing and sob uncontrollably at the same time. But we struggled through it and then stayed through lunch and instrument packing and lingered yet longer giving hug after hug, reluctant to re-enter the place where people start to tear up about something and say, “I’m sorry." As if an opened heart is something to apologize for.

Today I had dinner with two of the wonderful Brazilian women who came to the course and they talked about the sad school situation in Rio, money funneled away from educating children and into the pockets of corporations and the rich. And a different kind of tear-water tea came with that meal. Like Owl, it reminded me of many of the unbearable truths of this cruel world. Like all the teachers who dedicated themselves to their own betterment instead of sunning on a Hawaiin beach and don’t even know if they have a job awaiting them at the other end. Like all the people who never get to have two weeks with their bodies, minds and hearts fully engaged and working, who never get to sing, play and dance with others for more than 10 days in a row, who never fling themselves into a new life side-by-side with others willing to risk. Like all the children who will never get a teacher to lead them into song or turn attention to their imagination, all the kids with so much to say and no coherent way to say it without training in poetry, music, dance, all the children longing to feel connected who are confined to the prison of their desk and urged to beat out their classmates in the race to the top of nowhere.

That kind of tear water tea is far from refreshing. Pour in all the sugar of spin you want and it still won’t take away that bitter taste. So how’s this for a goal? “The mission of the school is to serve tear water tea for children and teachers alike, made from crying for the right reason.” If you need a soundtrack, come to our course and you’ll learn how to make that brew yet sweeter and more healing with songs that will melt your heart. 

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