When I was sixteen years old, I had just read Thoreau’s Walden and felt tuned in to the natural world through his example in a way I hadn’t been before. I remember going to a nearby wooded park in New Jersey and walking to a lake. Sitting there, watching the gentle motion of the water and listening to the birds and wrapped in the green of the forest trees, I had a mild epiphany of sorts, feeling "I belong to this world and it’s a beautiful world to belong to."
Walking back on the path, I passed some people coming the other way and uncharacteristically, looked them in the eye and greeted them with a smile. I felt that impulse to share the good news with whoever might come my way. It wasn’t enough for me to feel something special, it wasn’t complete until there was some kind of sharing with others, whether through a greeting and smile, a poem or song or painting.
None of it came close to the missionary idea of conversion. My intention never was and still not is to convince people to believe something that I happen to think is true, but to lead them to the kind of experience that reveals what normally is hidden, that opens their heart, their mind, their body. From that, they can draw their own conclusions.
I thought of this tonight at our Wednesday night “Untalent Show,” always an extraordinary few hours in our annual Orff Course. In the classes, people are unified through the pedagogy of the Schulwerk and bring their whole selves to making music, dancing and creating new pieces or dances in styles that are not the property of any one identity. But on this night, they happily share the essence of their cultural upbringing, though even here crossing lines as someone from outside Spain may have studied Flamenco and a Spanish person may be an expert in Taiko drumming. But regardless, the power of the music comes through as we are immersed in music from Iran, Thailand, many parts of Spain, Brazil, Colombia, U.S. jazz, a Croation folk song and beyond. I should have been content to just enjoy it for what it was (and is), but my lifelong habit has me yearning to share it with others, more so than ever now as whole groups of people seem determined to shut out “the other” and wish all the world to be just like them. God forbid!
Their xenophobia, prejudices and downright racism of course makes me angry, but also makes me sad that they are shutting themselves out from the beauty we all experienced tonight—and indeed throughout the course. 18 countries and languages represented in our group of 90 people and it makes for a gathering so rich, so joyful, so interesting, so eye-opening and heart-opening and mind-opening that I can’t help but feel sorry for the people who refuse to open their doors to it.
Of course, I know that if I required them to come to the concert or invited them to come without any prior interest on their side, nothing would change. Just as Thoreau helped me to walk differently through the woods, so might Rumi and Hafiz and Mirabai and Basho and Antonio Machado and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Amanda Gorman and Mary Oliver might help spark people’s curiosity to know the folks beyond their borders, not to mention the long list of musicians, dancers, actors, artists who can do the same.
Meanwhile, my birthday last week in company with these people catapulted me to the next layer above seventh heaven, the Level III Practicum Teaching last night got me into the ninth and tonight, was certainly the tenth. I haven’t the slightest idea what I did to deserve visits to ten layers of heaven, but perhaps it started with Thoreau and there’s no end in sight. We’ll see what the last two days of the course bring.