For the first time in over 20 months, I was finally going to get to play some music with my jazz band. I arrived a bit late at the drummer Micah’s house and heard the band playing (outside) The Saints Go Marchin’ In. So in I marched and started making up a new verse about me reuniting with the band as I headed to the piano. Suddenly, I notice some 20 other people in the back yard! I was too engrossed in the musical moment to pay it much mind, but as I started playing and looked out at them, I noticed that these were many of the folks who had signed up to come to my summer 70thbirthday and dropped out at the last moment because of that little pandemic scare. And so it dawned on me: “This is a surprise party!”
How sweet was that! We finished the tune and people went over to the food and people couldn’t tell if I was genuinely surprised and I assured them that I was, but it would have been yet clearer if they actually shouted out “Surprise!!!” Someone forgot to give them the manual. Ha ha! Nevertheless, it meant the world to me that these folks had felt bad that they didn’t end up joining me back in July and wanted to let me know they cared enough about it that they came up with this Plan B.
So here was my 4thcelebration—my actual birthday with a dinner out, the bigger party, another party with the family in Michigan and now this. Three more to go to fulfill some “one celebration per decade” idea someone gave me. (The next will be a concert in October with the band). After some milling about, I did sit down with the band and we played about five pieces, such pleasure to hear the horns and have the bass and drums with the piano and to my ears, everyone sounding great. And at one point, the sax player Joshi proposed a toast and gave a short emotional talk about how meeting me had opened so many doors for him, into rooms that he loved being in with people he loved being with. Never at a loss for words, I spoke briefly about the fact that if indeed, I had the good fortune to open doors for everyone gathered there (I had), it was merely repaying the debt to people who opened doors for me, the reason why I never stopped thanking Avon and he in turned owed his life to people like Carl Orff who owed his life to thousands of unnamed ancestors who helped him grow his vision. How one of the greatest pleasures of being a teacher was not only to open doors, but to notice who’s ready and ripe to walk through them and in some ways, it’s almost selfish: “You look like an interesting person and I want to be in the room with you! Come on in!” And ended with acknowledging both the kids each of them are opening doors for and the future teachers who they will invite in to the party.
The next day, I was on a Zoom call with some people who I had sung with in a college choir in an unforgettable European tour in 1973. One of us had passed away and this Zoom memorial was a reason to check in with people I literally had not seen in in 48 years! After speaking some about the recently departed man, we began talking about John Ronsheim, the teacher who took us on that trip and who had passed away in 1997. It was extraordinary how each person’s life had been directly impacted by his example, either going into music or becoming a winemaker (he was a passionate gourmet) or simply remembering his ever-curious ever-youthful childlike nature. Another door opener into yet more marvelous rooms.
Who has opened doors for you? Who have you opened doors for? Take a moment to think about it on your way to work today. And where possible, don’t forget to thank them.