I’m shamelessly dating myself here, evoking the old supermarket up on Elmora Ave. in Elizabeth, New Jersey where we used to shop. I believe A & P stood for the Atlantic and Pacific Company and according to a quick Wiki check, it actually was founded in 1859! But though tempting to go into the history of U.S. supermarkets, this entry was born from two words that rose up before me this morning while playing Solitaire— Affirm and Provoke. I should post them at my writing desk, in my classroom, on my piano, reminding me of my twin purpose in writing, in teaching, in performing jazz.
Affirmation. We are luminous beings, radiant with a true nature aligned with all of nature. At the top of evolution’s experiment, we’re graced with immense possibility— to think with dazzling intricacy, feel with profound emotion, move with grace and eloquence. Our gift (and curse) is the opportunity and obligation to choose. The promise of self-actualization is given freely to all, the fulfillment is our lifetime path of what we choose, what we don’t choose, what seems chosen for us. It’s not enough to be generically wondrous— each of us has our own particular way of shining and our unique blend of the rainbow colors. In writing, teaching, performing music, I’m looking at how to remind myself and others of this promise, both in general and specific ways. The most moving comment in my recent concert was “It felt like you were speaking to each of us alone.” The most moving affirmation I received recently was that I managed to capture a bit of each person’s genius in talking about the 22 Level III Orff graduates this summer, found the language and had taken the time to notice each’s unique way of being amidst the general appreciation. And I am always happy to receive comments from readers like “You spoke what I felt but couldn’t quite articulate.” To praise, to affirm, to remind— worthy hopes for us all.
And then provocation. We are none of us as good as we hoped to be, as we might be, as we should be, as we could be. The sun of our original nature may be ceaselessly shining, but the clouds of our ignorance, poor choices, troublesome personalities and just plain old emotional weather are constantly obscuring the light. And so each encounter in a class, concert or piece of writing, at the same time that it lovingly affirms, should be kicking our butt. “Get to work, you worthless, lazy scoundrel! Think deeper! Stop covering your heart! There’s bad things happening out there— raise your voice and speak out! Get out and work! There’s bad things happening inside of us— look them in the face and deal with them! Don’t beat yourself up brutally, but don’t be so smug and self-satisfied either!” To challenge, to question, to provoke— it keeps us honest and growing.
Affirm and Provoke. That’s the A & P store I shop at. See you in aisle 4.