i have a cousin that i saw only during the summer months in my early years. she was my brother’s age and was creative and funny and full of life. when she came to california to stay at my house we would stage elaborate musicals in our back yard, invite the neighbors, and sing and dance our hearts out. we made art that we sold door to door. we absconded rolls of paper from my mom’s adding machine and made 15 foot long collages to mail to our other cousins in oregon.
one summer she was with us on the forth of july. to understand the significance of this you need to know that the forth of july at my childhood home was a MAJOR HOLIDAY. nothing about those capitol letters is over emphasized. the forth of july was big. HUGE really. it began on the evening of the 3rd when our kitchen was abuzz with boiling pasta pots in preparation for the quadruple batch of forth of july salad my mother would make. large tubs of red licorice sat in picnic baskets and all the kids were put to work filling paper bags with air popped popcorn. around 5 we headed downtown for the outdoor “pops” concert after which somewhere between 50 and 60 friends would bring their lawn chairs to our home to be placed in the back of my dad’s car which would be heading downtown around 7 a.m. the next morning to set up the viewing area from which our assembled crowd would watch the parade. those chairs filled up long before the parade began and signs declaring everything from “we love the library” to “thanks firefighters” to “nice wheels” were held up for the general entertainment of the parade participants. several hot hours later everyone clamored to the patio of our home or the pool of our neighbor for a potluck before we launched water balloons from surgical tubing until the fireworks began. it was a big day requiring immense preparation and managing of logistics on the part of my parents. the few hours of sleep they got on the night of the 3rd were precious.
which brings me back to the story at hand. tired of our standard musical tributes and traveling art sales, jodi and jeremy and i conjured up a whole new kind of performance in the summer of 1976. every other kid we knew served their parents breakfast in bed. we figured we’d take it up a notch and serve my parents a performance in bed. given that the forth of july was a family favorite holiday and it was the bicentenial, it seemed the perfect day and presented an amazing theme for our creative process as well. searching our bookshelves for a copy of the declaration of independence, we put our minds to work on how to create an extravaganza to set the day off just right. we’d sing a few patriotic songs, wave a few flags, then, once everyone was really awake, we could take turns humming the battle hymn of the republic to back up a “rotating reading” of the declaration of independence. it was all set. it was going to be amazing!
i’m not sure when the idea came to us (likely in the wee small hours of the morning when our overly rehearsed program began to seem boring), but at some point we chose to add cymbals. it seemed so right and so, well, forth of july appropriate. so...it came to be that on july 4, 1976 we tip-toed into my parent’s room, got ourselves all set up for our show, and commenced our performance by banging together two sets of very metal lids from four very large kitchen pots. what we never even considered was the absolute and utterly panicked reaction this would evoke from two very tired and very fully asleep adults. needless to say, our bold introduction stole the show.
when we start with cymbals it’s hard to maintain our audience. either they’re startled and their ears hurt or we’ve set the expectation to such high stimulation that they are disappointed the minute we can’t maintain the symbol-like ambiance.
starting with cymbals is almost a sure-fire set up for difficulties and yet we do it so often. we lead with our passions. we wear t-shirts that shout our values. we surround ourselves with those whose symbols sound like ours so we don’t have to deal with dissonance. we inform others of our beliefs and status so that they know what to (and not to) disclose to us. we keep to our neighborhoods, our social groups, our norms where we can be as abrasive as we want because everyone agrees with us.
we so often start with cymbals.
cymbals rarely, however, welcome others. when used as agents of greeting they are over-bold and under-sensitive. they make the welcome all about me and not at all about you. when used post greeting they are distractors and emphasizers, again pulling the focus from the broad to the specific. my “specific.”
there are so many other ways of making an impact than by banging metal on metal.
there is an old quaker saying that states, “let your life speak.” this is so un-cymbal-like and yet so deeply powerful. it alludes to the fact that how we live tells the story of what matters to us.
is this true for you?
consider these questions: what does your morning routine say about what you value? what story does your wallet tell? in observing your interactions with people, what might someone learn about you? do your outsides match your insides? how does the manner in which you respond to disappointment speak to your resilience? what attitudes and feelings speak even louder than your words? so often what we are doing or feeling or thinking is speaking so loudly that no one can hear what we’re saying. that’s important to consider. so important that i want to say it again. so often what we are doing or feeling or thinking is speaking so loudly that no one can hear what we’re saying.
consider these examples: a person says that appearance doesn’t matter to them but spends excessive amounts of time, money, and energy achieving a certain “look.” someone else feels it’s financially impossible to afford life expanding experiences but pays over $100 a month on smart phone services. a family that doesn’t have time to eat together spends hours of evening time, each in front of their own screen. i could fill pages with examples like this...many from my own life.
if your life is speaking, do you like what it’s saying? do you feel like it’s lacking in impact or substance? do you dislike the story? is it discordant with how you’d really like it to be? is it reflective of the you you wish you were rather than the you you really are? if you answered yes to any of these questions, cymbals will not help. they may distract, they may impress, they may dress things up but they won’t help in the long run. the truth is, on the 4th of july in 1976 two parents were peeling themselves off the ceiling from the sheer terror of being awakened by clanging metal. while the introduction was certainly exciting, it absolutely did not make anyone want to stick around for the show. and if they had, the show would not have been able to live up to its beginning.
in letting our lives speak, the task is to align the external living of our lives with the internal movement of our souls. as a training percussionist aligns his practice to a metronome to keep in time, so must we hold ourselves accountable to a method of living that is sturdier than simply “winging it” allows. unearthing the truth about what we believe, doing the work of naming our values, and aligning our behaviors with these discoveries allows us to tell a story, through our lives, with authenticity and genuine depth. instead of living from one habit-driven second to the next, our movements begin to conform to the beating of our hearts. this slow, paced, patterned kind of living tells so much more of a reliable story than most creative beginnings can sustain. we may tell ourselves that this kind of living is too hard. that no one will want to connect to our “mundaneness.” truthfully, however, cymbals are best as accents and not the melody.
so listen. hear your heart beat. walk in time with it. let your life speak....