Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Time matters

Learning how to play an instrument well enough to enjoy it (which is not to say play it well) requires a fair amount of time, and occasionally money.

I play a few instruments just well enough to amuse myself, though, to be fair, I am easily amused. All require an investment of time. Even the seemingly idiotic ones (I have both a nose and a jaw harp, tin whistles, a wooden flute and a bright yellow banana ocarina somewhere) require practice to get to unconscious joy, when the cerebellum hums loud enough to clam up the cerebral cortex, which is, of course, the point.

I hog 48 minutes a day from a lot of young adults in my town, five days a week.
That's 4 hours a week, not enough to get one to Julliard, but certainly enough to play "Ode to Joy" on a karimba.

If we were immortal, this would be a trivial issue. But we're not.

35 years ago I chose to learn biochemical pathways over the bucket bass. I'm supposed to tell students that they need to do the same, so that they can go to college, and get jobs, and reach their dreams.

And here I am now, in my 6th decade, dreaming of playing the fiddle.


Of all the things I do for joy that are human, playing guitar, singing, and doodling are my favorites.

None earn me money; none contribute to the GDP; none got me to college or medical school. All three help make my life worth living.

If our children do not have time to play the harmonica, to doodle away hours, to hear stories about their neighborhood, something is wrong.

If we dedicate our children's time to acquiring the skills and credentials needed to live a "successful" life, cajoling them to give up sports or drama or music to chase success on a report card so that they have a better shot at getting into a "better" college.

Happiness and success intersect in a very small corner of our American universe here. It's nice to straddle both, but if I had to choose one over the other, it's happiness hands down.


We've replaced our local stories with mass media. We hardly have time to sit down for meals, never mind trade tales that define us.
Kelly Tripucka played ball in our high school. He graduated in 1977. He still comes round now and again. Kelly is among one of many honored in our school.

His sister, who also had a splendid career, but too early for the WNBA, works in administration across the street from the high school.

His father, an All American himself, recently donated a good chunk of change to help save our local football stadium.
No school should be named after a national figure, no matter how iconic. Every neighborhood has a story to tell, wisdom to share.

I went to Thorne Junior High School in Middletown--Buddy Thorne, a local lad, gave up his life in the Battle of the Bulge. He gave up his life, and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal sits in the school.

Few folks who did not go to Thorne know anything about the man. I do. He's part of my town, part of my history. We heard his story, and his story became part of us.

Corporal Thorne will remain a part of me until I die.

So what matters? You decide. No one else can, and it is important that you do. Mortally important.

Our children need to share their stories, sing their songs, live their lives.

Most of us will be better off if they do, even if the GDP drops perceptibly. It's not real, it's not mortal, and, when we die, it does not matter. And every one of us will die. The idea still surprises me.

But the love of life we leave behind in those who still live does matter, even if we do die, or maybe especially because we do die.

I have your children four hours a week. You tell me what matters.

If you can.

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