Sunday, November 10, 2013

A twelfth anniversary thank-you note to Michelle

"Once upon a time" while living in a foreign country, although I never really grasped the degree of 'foreignness' I would experience until I had spent real time living and working in that country, one that used the "same language" and inhabited the same continent, and that shared what was commonly called the longest undefended border in the world, (signifying a deep and long-lasting friendship), I met someone whose first impressions were of the 'gentle' and 'shy' sort.
Michelle
She was a mother, a musician, and a colleague with whom I worked for many months, in joint planning of tasks that involved both of us, she having already been engaged by the same employer as I, long before I even saw the place. We had to select activities in which the people we served would participate, collected around different themes we hoped would inspire, and stretch these people, since we both shared an interest, if not indeed a passion, for both inspiration and stretching, in all the ways that people are open and receptive to being inspired and to  being invited to stretch. Having very different pasts, we both nevertheless found ourselves engaged in these weekly activities, never really incurring even the most micro of grains of 'sand' in the gear-box of our shared activities.
We were always glad when it was time to meet, to talk and to explore options from resources to which she added, and from which I drew, inviting others to share in our choices, as part of our minor and meagre attempts to grow what little we both knew and could draw out of others with respect to building a small and supportive community.
The North American continent is not, and will not likely be for a very long time, renowned for its commitment to community, real community, in which real conversations about real and pressing issues are integrated into the daily lives of people who inhabit the same village, or workplace, or even religious circle. There are, of course, exceptions, in the First Nations villages and in the small and scattered sections of towns and cities in which recent immigrants have collected, as part of their survival in a new land with new conventions and expectations. However, in the Caucasian world of our individual and separate experience, we have both noted a significant impact of what has come to be known as the 'silo effect' in which people ride to work encased in their private cars or trucks, in which they work in private offices, walled often by half-walls, connected albeit through phones, faxes, emails, and more recently twitter and facebook....but still there is a distinct urge, evidenced by both the nature of public conversations and by private choices, for extreme privacy.
Breaking down some of those emotional fences, without in any way threatening the hearts and minds and even the spirits of those people who had already grown familiar and comfortable with their unique and common fences, one of the unstated yet shared goals of our shared activities, seemed to come naturally, without the need to plan and to strategize in order to formally measure our success.
It was more of an organic thing, that somehow we both knew, and accepted, even relished our opportunity to work together to accomplish something that we both knew we could not do alone, in our own silo, no matter how shy and reserved we were by nature and development.
Often our activities would require a brief period of rehearsal, for which arrangements were both easy and accommodating. Our goals within those sessions, often gently planned and announced by this work-partner, were consistently reasonable, yet also a little challenging, never oppressive and never too much, as they would and could have been had I designed and suggested them.
We learned that we had both experienced a significant number of years of instruction in piano performance, with her's being more slanted to composing and accompanying, and mine more focussed on solo performance. Innately, our piano backgrounds depicted our different emphasis: her's to a shared experience as being natural and desireable, mine to a solo experience, making her capacity and interest and easy of working with others far exceeding mine, naturally, without the slightest sign of competition. Never did I feel or believe that either of us was 'second' in either eyes; we were always, somehow, without a single ounce of "work," 'on the same page' at the same time, without knowing how we got there.
Sometimes we would both smile at the synchronicity, without ever giving voice to its mystery, probably fearful that in defining it, we might injure its magic. If cues were ever required for either of us to 'begin' or to 'slow down' on something we were doing simultaneously, as part of our duties with other people, a mere link of her eye and mine was adequate as a sign. We literally worked as much as a single entity, as I at least could ever imagine.
A working relationship like this was so foreign to my world and to my experience that in over half a century I had never even heard of such compatibility. A career in teaching had sent some 180 students each year for twenty-plus years into classrooms where I was expected to 'teach' and inspire their development. I had made many acquaintances with many interesting and brilliant and inspiring adolescents so eager to learn and to grow and I believed that my best approach was, in many ways, to get out of their way, as they absorbed more and more complex notions, nuances and ideas, from writers who had inspired centuries of other young spirits. There were also a few colleagues with whom I shared some common views, and some common goals, although my experience was generally that I was thought to be far too 'liberal' for many of my conservative educator colleagues.
So this working relationship fell into a category of mystery, magic and something like fragility, in my mind, not to ever be threatened with a word, a hint or a sign of anticipated or expected additional intimacy.
This relationship was, from my perspective, far too important, and far too subtle and nuanced and far too compatible ever to be 'messed with' although I was also aware of signs of some deep and profound ill-ease within her heart. When one enters into the world of practicing ministry, one learns rather quickly, that there are moments that can only be described as different, with a kind of significance that eludes comprehension, often around a birth or a death, a marriage or a baptism, or even just an "accidental" conversation in which two people share something significant. And while one tries to remain open to such moments, and let them define themselves and develop themselves through their own natural evolution, one knows that they can never be 'structured' or arranged or planned or even expected. In fact, one of the serious barriers to North Americans' apprehension of anything spiritual is our obsessive need to plan, organize and structure our whole existences, as if we were in complete control, and to obsess about our frustrations if and when something does not follow our "plan".
We leave little to no room for these 'sacred' moments, because are so busy executing our duties, our chores, our parenting, our jobs, our...whatever...even our social lives.
However, in a very significant contrast this relationship was unencumbered by too much structure and too much planning and to rigorously defined goals and expectations, and yet the relationship seemed never to miss a "beat" as the music of its harmony and rhythm unfolded before both our eyes.
After nearly three years, she said to me, one day, "Would you like to audition for the local concert of the Community Concerts?"
"And what would that entail?" I asked.
"Well, the committee would expect you to perform a couple of numbers, vocally, and if you were 'accepted' as one of the performers for the local concert, that would be all there would be to it!" she responded nonchalantly yet with some energy.
"And do you think I could do that?" I pushed, a little surprised and nervous at her suggestion.
"Why not?" she retorted.
"So, what would you suggest I offer as my two 'numbers'?
"You could start with The Lord's Prayer, I've heard you do that one already," she led. "And I am sure we could find something else to rehearse. In fact, since you are from north of the border, you might consider doing a Canadian song, like perhaps one by Gordon Lightfoot, as your second number."
"Well, I am a little overcome with the prospect of this suggestion but, let's give it a try," I offered.
And so the rehearsals began, several weeks prior to the date of auditions.
Accepted, as one of the performers in the local concert, I began to sweat about whether or not I could pull this off, given the need to memorize notes and words, and to hold the nerves in check.  I had never done anything like this, although I had done some radio and television work, in which I was the facilitator, not the "focus" of the program.
The concert completed, both of us were energized, proud, and even inspired to do more. In fact, there was a kind of burst of shared energy which could have launched a 747, had it been encased in the
fuselage. What was "more" going to look like, I wondered.
And, shortly we discovered what it might look like. We could do a concert with a third colleague to raise funds for the people left homeless in Hurricane Mitch that had recently hit Honduras.
And so the rehearsals for that enterprise began, in earnest.
Selecting the material came as easily as had the many choices we had made together, in our working assignments, to the surprise of neither of us. Rehearsing the material also took almost no "effort" and was always a deep and lasting joy, both in the moment and upon reflection, at least from my perch.
And as these rehearsals continued, so began a series of long and deep and very personal conservations that finally included, "We both want to be together, however that might happen!" And so, sitting, as I recall, on a car blanket in a park in Steamboat Springs, we both offered that we would "walk as if" we were going to be together for the rest of our lives, and that as part of that walk, we would both agree to inform the other if that "as if" ever changed.
That conversation took place in 1999 and today, we are celebrating our twelfth anniversary, after a dozen years of the most inspired and inspiring conversations, walks, dinners, trips, theatre dates, and shared readings and writings of these many decades.
Michelle, I only want to say, however inadequate the words themselves  may be, just how much I love you and how much to have enriched my life and how grateful I am for your just being in my life.
Now, as we continue to say almost every day, "Would you please marry me, if you were to chose again today?" and before you answer, I unequivocally hope your answer is "yes" because that is all I need, want and live for.

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