A beautiful young soon-to-be teacher was visiting in my classroom the other day. A lovely person. Enthusiastic, curious, and full of insightful questions. It reminded me of the first encounter I had with a music teacher who was using the Kodaly approach, which I now use to teach my own children. I remember when I met Mrs. Clay up in Virginia. At the time I still expected to be a church musician for life and was taking her Elementary Music Methods class to fill a hole in my senior schedule. Boy was I surprised.
Surprised when she began to talk about this way of teaching children to sight read music with joy and enthusiasm . . . surprised when she launched into lecture after lecture about cultural preservation through song and the joy of lifelong learning. Suddenly I was researching Kodaly. Where could I find a place to get this training? How could I get a teaching license? My calling finally had wings. Because, you see, I had always felt a calling. I always felt that God was asking me to go to some group of people somewhere and carry joy and light and love with me. I'd been searching for ways to do that my entire teenage life . . . and young adult life . . . I really didn't expect it to take the form of public education. But there it was. Undeniable. (Thank you, Mrs. Clay, for inspiring me. You probably don't know what a big gift you gave me. You completely changed the shape of my future.)
Because of this, I came to Chattanooga. Because of this, I met my KIUTC family - a network of likeminded music teachers who actively support each other. In almost 6 years of teaching I haven't faced one single challenge alone. I'm always writing to somebody from KIUTC about my struggles. I'm always receiving support and answers and wisdom.
I write all this because the other day this beautiful young teacher asked me about the daily life . . . once somebody becomes whatever they are and begins to do whatever they do for a "real job" - how do they stay energized and inspired? How do they keep themselves fed? How do we keep our childlike wonder as we face the daunting reality of days and days . . . and years . . . of "normal life"? Smart girl, to be asking such a question. I ask myself this question constantly - we all should.
And all of this brings me to a song I wrote just this past week. I wrote it for a friend - a friend is a person who you care about who also cares about you. Somebody you can be honest with. I have had such incredible friends in my life. (Thank you, God, for my friends - sometimes I can't handle the incredible reality of the people you've sent to me over the years. I don't really know how to give you the right "thank you" for what they mean to me.)
This song is for my friend. But you can have it, too. Or give it to one of your friends.
My everyday life is hurried and frantic. There is a little family to look after. There is paperwork to be done. There's a mountain of obligation - joyful and mundane. The act of teaching becomes repetitive if we're not careful. The act of anything becomes repetitive if we're not mindful.
Mindfulness can salvage our great dreams as we try our best to embrace "everyday life." Did you hear me? The act of paying close attention to the people and happenings around us . . . to nature . . . to words passing between friends . . . to our students and our families . . . this can help us to find the essence of our first hopes and our great dreams in the piles of paperwork and the mountains of obligation. It really can. I can testify.
Having friends to talk to about these things will keep a person accountable.
My KIUTC friends help me to continue striving as a teacher. They help me to be mindful about the joy of learning I'm trying to foster in my students.
My parents and in-laws, my husband, my sister . . . they help me to be mindful about the daily minutia - the laundry and the cooking of meals. When I cook something and my husband smiles at me and tells me how wonderful it is, I remember why I love to cook: Because I love to feed the people I love. When my husband cooks something and I do the same for him, I know it reminds him why he loves to cook (and he does cook for me, girls. does dishes, too. he's mine - you can't have him!)
I have other friends who write other kinds of music. They keep me mindful about the practice of creating and collaborating. They remind me why the process is so healthy and why I should keep trying even when I feel discouraged.
Daily life doesn't have to starve us, friends. But daily life won't hand us meaning on a silver platter. I had a wonderful professor who taught my grad school music education classes. We called him "the music education Evangelist" because when he was excited about something he'd pound the podium with his fist! He used to say, "Trotter (yeah, that was my name back then) - when you teach music you have to be prepared to MAKE meaning. You're taking a bunch of meaningless symbols and turning them into language for children. Teaching anything is just that - MAKING MEANING out of NOTHING. If you can't think of it that way, you'll never accomplish what you want to."
Life is like that, too.
Nothing will give us meaning. Children won't give you meaning. They'll take nourishment, sleep, and time from you! They are born unable to give you anything other than themselves. In order to find meaning in the experience of parenting, you have to be ready to roll up your sleeves and search. You'll find it, of course. But part of the work will be yours. Careers and jobs won't give you meaning. Yes - you will have to roll up your sleeves and find it for yourself. And then you'll have to do the daily work of feeding that meaning . . . fueling it with good conversation and inspiring experiences. You'll be responsible for that. Nobody else can do it for you. But having folks to share it with will certainly help you.
Embracing daily life isn't easy. I know. I really do. It can feel like an enormous burden. Friends, please don't try to carry the burden by yourselves. Find a tribe of people to circle up with. Do your best to hold on to any goodness you see in the world. Focus intently on the details . . . doing the dishes . . . folding the laundry . . . getting to and from work . . . making eye contact with the people you're blessed to know. You're not alone. Keep at it.