“We never know how high we are,
Till we are called to rise
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies—
The Heroism we recite,
Would be a daily thing.
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp,
For fear to be a King.” -Emily Dickinson
It has been quite a year and a half.. We have been called to rise to parts of ourselves we didn’t know we could reach. And equally, we have been called to descend to some murky depths we have refused to visit. And here we are, finally on the cusp of return to normality.
But should we return to the old normal? Arundhati Roy suggests not.
“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew, to enter a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
How tragic if the passing of the virus put it all back to sleep again. Here we are, with Nature rattling and Culture unravelling and both calling us to rise higher than the previous mark, to be yet larger versions of ourselves. As the song says, “We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, maybe it’s trouble and sorrow” and we’re all feeling that more deeply than ever. In the new world we’re entering, we will need an extra dose of courage to speak out about the things we have been silent about, an increased capacity to feel the things we've been afraid to fully feel, an enlarged ability to listen— really listen. All of which music can help nourish and fortify.
This is the time of our singing. This is the time to dance that moral arc towards justice. This is the time to improvise through the staggering accelerated changes like a disciplined jazz musician. This is the time to work on our downward dog and then come up barking ferociously at the robbers trying to steal the treasures of our humanity, the shameless profiteers coming to steal the souls of our children. This is the time to connect the mindfulness of our breath with the denial of some of us to breathe while the knees of centuries old and government sanctioned brutality are on their neck.
And that means the children need to learn the songs. They need to know how to sing. And right now, in this moment, they need more than ever the comfort of a soothing lullaby, the caress of a violin string or the healing breath of the saxophone.. They need to create something from sounds, images, colors and motions to stave off the chaos of the world, to bring order to the pandemic’s pandemonium, the cultural confusion. They need to understand that beauty is powerful, a flowering plant pushing up through the concrete or singing even through the screen. This they need and this they deserve. We all do.
And as teachers, this is the time to teach beyond music, from the core of our humanity to the seed of our fullest humanistic flowering We need to tell the children the stories we have been silent about, vaccinate them against the epidemic of purposeful ignorance that protects unearned privilege and power, tell them the truth of who we have been and lead them toward who we yet might be.
My friends, that’s why we are gathered here. To help each other rise to the call, so we may emerge from the winter of our sheltering into the beautiful blossoming that has waited patiently for its moment. And that moment is now.