I got a phone call out of the blue from The Sole Heir last week. These are not unusual occurrences; she’s good about making The Old Man™ feel like he’s still at the party with random calls and appearances.
This particular call was prompted by her having to walk through the practice room wing of the music building to get to a professor’s office. Every room filled, different music in different keys on different instruments all filtering into the hall as she walked by; Charles Ives’s idea of heaven.
Her response? Call The Old Man™ to tell him what she’d done, and that it occurred to her, “This is what it must have been like for Dad every day.”
That’s Gift One; to have the thought and take the time. Not too many nineteen-year-olds would do either. Made my day.
Gift two? She got me to thinking about it, how it felt for that to be an everyday occurrence. How it was the most energized time of my life, waking up knowing I was going to learn things I didn’t even suspect at the time, and that everything I learned would make me aware of fifteen other things I needed to know and had better find out. It was intimidating and exhilarating at the same time, the intimidation overcome by the exhilaration and the mindless confidence of youth.
Then I got to thinking of how much better my life has been because I made one decision: to change majors from Medical Technology to Music Education. I would have made a nice living in Med Tech, and enjoyed it. Music allowed a working class boy from more or less rural Pennsylvania to be exposed to a lot of things he had no business expecting, contrasting life experiences a lot of people don’t get.
I’ve played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra and German beer bands. Played in Heinz Hall and Meyerhoff Hall and a corrugated metal building that housed a private school built so white kids wouldn’t have to school with Nigras. I’ve played the Fourth of July at Stone Mountain in front of 250,000 people and dedicated a tree. Attended receptions in homes worth several million dollars and eaten homemade Brunswick Stew off a paper plate while sitting under a tree. Played football games in sub-freezing temperatures and parades where I wrung the sweat out of my jacket afterward. Performed next to players now working in major orchestras and high school students now working at Popeye’s.
A lot of extremes I would not have had a chance to experience otherwise. The downside is that I rarely feel fully at home in most places. My blue collar upbringing meant I was never truly comfortable in the chi-chi settings, but my education and experience made it hard to listen to some of the conversations taking place in the American Legion when I went home. It forced me to think about things I likely would not have thought about, and to examine positions in a more detailed manner. It taught me the power of self-discipline and perseverance, and how to pick my battles and to know when to quit. Made me a better father than I would have been, and a better son than I had been.
What it didn’t make me was enough money to live on, so I moved on. No shame in that, and no time wasted. Learning to live a more fully examined life is never a waste of time, and it was nice to be reminded of that.