Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As If

I’m often struck how much of life is lived “as if” whatever you are doing is the most important thing in the world. Common sense tells us, “Really, in the big picture, who cares? Who will remember? Will you even remember?” And yet we spew out ulcer-producing gastric juices worrying about this, that and the other thing. Above us are trillions of stars, around us billions of people, behind us millions of years and ahead of us, millions more. In the grand scheme of things, who cares that the store was out of milk just when you needed it for your coffee or that the piano was slightly out of tune in your concert?

And yet. We have to live life “as if” each thing is important far beyond its actual importance. We’ll spend hours voicing a chord just right for our jazz improvisation or rehearsing the 4th grade scene in the Holiday Play over and over again until each stage voice reaches its proper decibel level. We have to imagine that it is incredibly important and that everyone will care and thus, we will care and bring that caring into the enterprise. Maybe that's a good definition of an inspired teacher— someone who cares enough to run to Lowes after a long day at school and search the monstrous aisles for a piece of scrap wood that will work just a little bit better for a sword than a yardstick. And equally a good definition of an inspired student— someone who cares enough to keep working at a line until it looks, feels and sounds right. The line will speed by in a nanosecond, but because time is fleeting, that makes it all the more important to deliver it well, with conviction and caring.

The upcoming Holiday Plays are precisely why this is on my mind. My little Memo book is filled with lists like:

• Find peacock feather
• Paint cardboard key black
• Have S cross right and wait four seconds before delivering line
• Put in Shirley joke

Each tiny thing becomes a detail that must be attended to or surely the world will stop turning. (“And don’t call me Shirley!” Ka-boom!) And just perhaps that level of attention is precisely how life should be lived. Since we actually don’t know what impact even the slightest action can have, we have to pay everything mind as if this particular thing we’re doing at the moment might be the difference between life and death. And it just might be. Or at least between one kind of life and another.

I mentioned a few blogs back my hope to say thanks to Carol Kusmierski, the school parent who bought six Orff instruments for The San Francisco School. A small enough action that reaped enormous consequences, not only changing the lives of myself and my two colleagues, but hopefully providing hundreds of children with confidence in their musicality and warm memories of their school community. And also impacting, through the workshops my colleagues and I give, thousands of teachers and each one with hundreds of kids some simple pleasures that might not have been. And again, in the big picture, that is not ultimately significant, but in the only picture we care about, the daily, living breathing lives we live, it indeed means something worthy.

So I imagine Carol thinking all those years back (1974) that this donation would be a good idea without any foreknowledge of how right she was. And miracle of miracles, she responded to my inquiry (see Blog “Thanks”) and is hoping to come to see the Holiday Show on Thursday night. A 40-year loop complete, one “as if” decision meeting my “as ifs” actions to improve these plays. May it be so!

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