For My Teachers

Dry of things to say, I put my mind to paper and what first comes is gratitude – so we’ll go with that. The first gratitude that comes is for my teachers. Not towards them, that is most definitely there but it is a different facet. FOR them. For having had them, for their presence along the path. I have had many teachers; virtually anyone I’ve ever met I have learned something from. If not consciously in a practical way, then in a honing way they have added to my experience. I am more effective because of them. This is perhaps the most valuable teaching, as it is something directly applied to the doing and not the thought process and collection of equipment behind it. The doing is sharpened by doing. 

We walk through this life and when we succeed at a test or task we think “I did this” or “I made that.” Well you helped it to happen, you became the tool of it, you were the force it took to get that done. But unless – in my example – I designed and made my own tools from materials I also created and used them with techniques I alone came up with to work other materials I developed from no raw materials to begin with (that’s cheating), and manifested this all into something tangible I solely invented with no other hands or forces involved, I am not a self-made man. And, hypothetically grown to tremendous finances and huge spaces with hundreds of hands, I would be even less so. One can become a great sailor, but in a world of gravity and buoyancy and wind, there is no such thing as self-made there either. That boat. Those sails. The port in the storm. You are a very good juggler; don’t let your balls confuse you. 

I was given these tools whether I paid for them or not; I was given this time and breath and awareness whether I acknowledge them or not; I was given skills and aptitudes whatever I may make of and with them from there. I was given this place whether I arranged it or not, and given your attention whether I earned it or not. Nothing is guaranteed, no entitlement or math or sense of self-importance or mission is a full ticket for safe passage. I can take pieces of wood and, with a few tools, craft a musical instrument out of it that you want, and we can have a joyful exchange, and I can eat and continue. Where in this is “Self made?” Self assembled perhaps. A self assembled life. But I didn’t make the seed or the dirt or the sun or rain that ultimately sprouted this garden. I merely gathered and gardened. “I” didn’t grow anything. It is the seeds of my teachers gardened with acquired skills and honed devotion that grew the garden.

I was reminded of much of this as I remembered an old friend this past week, running across one of his now grown children on Facebook. He lived down the street from me when I was around 16, 17 years old. The generation before but so cool, a musicologist who opened my mind to tracing musical threads backwards through layers into time and culture. He introduced me to kale soup and growing your own food, a concept of aspiring to self-sufficiency, the music of Van Morrison, practical simple living, integrity, and that it’s a big world and I should go find my spot of it and plant a garden. An amazingly solid, no-bullshit, fundamental person in the formation of who I grew into down the road. Solid as a rock until the time much later instead of a visit with him I shared tears with his family; the man now across town with the new baby was not the man I knew. His balls had confused him. I’m not here to judge, we all leave bootprints. The biggest lesson – if he can be blown off course I’d better hold on with both hands. Because at my best I will never be the man he was and any successes or good ripples outward from me are partly the best of him too. I honor his best through doing my best. This is how we best honor our teachers.

So despite all of our faults and stumbles, the occasional collateral damage that happens in a life, have we been that to another? Have we graced another life's path through our presence or work?  Is the best of our teachers in the results of our lives? If you can’t figure out what any of this has to do with wood and wire and the latest Birdsongs, are you on the right site? My teachers may have been men and women no more perfect than the rest of us, but they took the time and delivered the goods. Their highest is alive in me. And so today I wish to thank, among so much magic and unseen and Greater (can’t help but notice the un-seeable when your life is based on sound – and, trust me, your life is based on sound), the presence at every step of teachers along the road… some even disguised as ordinary people who just have something extraordinary to share. My ultimate gratitude TO them is in my work for you; my gratitude FOR them, in all of the many forms we judge in our own ways, whoever they have been to me and wherever they are now, I honor WITH my work today.  

Be the tune you want to hear,

Listening to: Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Gary Davis, Chris Bell I Am The Cosmos, Howlin’ Wolf Howlin’ In The Moonlight, and a bunch of Popul Vuh online. I don’t think you’ll ever see Rev. Davis, Chris Bell and Popul Vuh mentioned in the same sentence again. Enjoy!