Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers and Mirrors

My thoughts are with the bedtime conversation I had with my daughter last night, during which I asked her if she knows what to do if there is an active shooter in her middle school. She does.

My prayers are with those teenagers who had to cower in dark classrooms while gunshots rang out around them and who then saw bodies and heard the screams that will haunt them in the days to come.

My thoughts are with the teachers who stood in front of the gunfire while their students ran to safety, who sacrificed their lives when their intention was only to teach English or coach football. I think of the teachers in the schools of my children and how thankful I am that I imagine they would do the same.

My prayers are with the families who waited outside of the high school yesterday and who never saw their children make it out – those who eventually walked away from the campus in shock and instead today are walking into a morgue to identify their babies.

My thoughts are with my son, who can get angry about not having a dad in the home and who recently has experienced some taunting on his school bus. How do I protect his heart and help him not grow into a young man who feels isolated and violent?

My prayers are with the shooter, but not out of pity or in any way to mitigate the horrendous evil he perpetrated. What a sick and pained mind he must have if he believed that slaughtering a bunch of his peers was the answer. I cannot imagine living in such a depraved mental space.

You see, thoughts and prayers are good things. We need more thoughtfulness in this country. We need to put more thought into how we talk to our young people and, more importantly, how we listen. We need to put more thought into who has guns in our country and what kind of guns they have. And, prayer is important is well. When you focus your mental and emotional energy on an issue through prayer or meditation, this is positive and time well spent.

So, let’s not discount thoughts and prayers. But, let’s also ask some questions. And my first questions are these:

What can I do to improve the situation? What can I do to reduce the number of school shootings in our country?

On its surface, perhaps these questions seem silly. How can I, as one individual, counter the finances of the NRA or the negative influence of social media or the constant belittling from school bullies? I will answer that with a story.

Last year, the teenagers in my church went on a retreat and while there, they discussed the love of God as Father. For many young men in our congregation, this is a difficult concept to grasp as they are being raised by single moms and have no example of an earthly father who loves them. One of the parents in attendance, who was serving as a chaperone, stood in the back of the chapel at the end of the discussion and offered hugs to anyone who needed to be held by a dad. These teenage boys stood in line and wept as they allowed themselves to be wrapped in the arms of a father. Some of them never experienced a hug from a dad before. I cry now just thinking about it.

And here’s another story . . . one that doesn’t require the component of faith:

My boss volunteers with a group of men who go into middle schools in Metro Nashville and teach eighth grade boys how to put on a necktie. That’s it. These men talk to the boys about self-respect and how to present yourself to others and help them with neckties. The first time he went, my boss was surprised at how eager the thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys were to spend time at this event. He expected eye rolls and forced participation. But no . . . because these young men are desperate for that connection.

Now, I’m not na├»ve enough to suggest that we would have no more school shootings if everyone just hugged more. That’s ridiculous. We do need more gun legislation. I love the Constitution. I read it at least once a year. I think it’s a beautiful document that serves as the cornerstone for the longest-lasting freely elected government in the history of the world. But, the Constitution is flawed. It includes language that proves our country once counted black men and women as 3/5 of a person. It originally stated that you had to be a white man who owns land in order to vote. It was written by men who could not have foreseen the firepower that is available today. It was written by men who just had beaten the most powerful military in the world against incredible odds and wanted to make sure that freedom was preserved by the bankers and the farmers and the blacksmiths who would come after them. I don’t believe the “well-regulated militia” was meant to include psychologically disturbed teenagers with AR-15s in their hands. Other parts of the Constitution have been subject to interpretation and adjustment over time – the Second Amendment should be no different.

So, yes, we start with the demand for our legislative bodies to make some changes. But I’m not going to put the responsibility solely on them (if I ever decide it’s completely the government’s job to fix something, please check my head for high fever). Maybe our elected officials are going to continue on the same course and not do anything. That seems to be the trend after all. If Congress wasn’t moved to action after twenty FIRST GRADERS were murdered, why would we expect different now? Do we just throw up our hands in disgust? No. We continue to yell and to vote and to advocate. But I think we also look inward.

I believe each one of us can affect change without waiting for anyone else to do the right thing. Why are there more school shootings in the last few years even though gun laws have stayed exactly the same? I think a not insignificant reason is that we are becoming more disconnected from each other all the time. We live through our electronic devices. Our teenagers are now more comfortable texting one another than having actual human conversations and they place their happiness in the number of “likes” they get or how their lives compare to what others are doing on Snapchat. We don’t know the names of our neighbors, let alone the joys and struggles of their lives. We don’t invest in the lives of troubled kids with our time. Or, at the very least, we don’t bother to report to the right authorities a kid who we think may become a problem, because we assume someone else will do it. When a dad walks out, we aren’t always there as part of the community waiting to walk in. We don’t look for the person sitting alone and start a conversation. We don't look people in the eyes. We don't get off the phone when standing in front of a cashier and buying our groceries. We read and watch and listen to people who look like us and think like us, because that's comfortable. We have built millions of little bubbles around ourselves and our families.

And by “we,” I mean that I’m starting right here with “me.”

Let’s hashtag #GunControl and #Parkland. Let’s retweet the statistics about the number of school shootings and the level of gun violence in our country compared to others. Let’s make phone calls and work for candidates who have good ideas for real and meaningful reform. Let’s tell Congress that it’s ridiculous that I cannot take shampoo on a flight because there was one unsuccessful attempt to blow up an airplane with liquids over a decade ago but absolutely nothing has been about the fact that over 100 kids have been killed in school shootings in the past FIVE years.

But let’s not stop with the righteous anger at what others are refusing to do. Let’s also look at ourselves. No, it’s not our job to fix the problem, if that’s even possible. It’s not our fault if (when) another school shooting happens. I’m not claiming any of that. But while waiting for others, we can do something, too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

To Me, From Me on Valentine's Day

Dear Me,

I bought these flowers for you for Valentine’s Day. Does that seem strange? I just thought you might want to have a few beautiful roses to look at while you work because I know this day is not your favorite. I did the math, and it’s been sixteen years since you received a Valentine’s present of the romantic sort (not to discount the homemade cards from the kids and nice notes from your parents, because those are great). You had a husband who wasn't a fan of the holiday and then, for longer than that, you've been single. Life happens that way. You can tell yourself it doesn’t matter. You can proclaim, “It’s just a silly Hallmark holiday.” But, even though you don't like to admit it, I know it gets to you sometimes anyway.

Let's always remember this truth to start - You have a lot of love in your life!

While they choose not to use the words very often because I think they have their own struggles with love and attachment, I know that your kids love you. They show it in small ways – by asking for a hug or wanting you close when they aren’t feeling well or proving at a later date that they actually were listening when you offered advice, when your son smiles the moment he spots you picking him up from aftercare and the times your daughter asks to sit with you after her brother is asleep so you can talk with her about those unique middle school challenges. 

You have amazing friends who have shown you a type of love and support that overwhelms you. Do you remember when, several years ago on Valentine's Day, they got a key to your home and cleaned it and left your fridge stocked with meals? Or when they sat in solidarity for hours at the hospital when you gave birth to your son three months after separating from his father? Or how they care for your kids? How about how they make you laugh and forgive you during those times when you fall short? That's love. You strive to be that good of a friend in return.

You have parents and siblings and extended family who love you and who tell you that they are proud of you. They know your story from the beginning. I know how much you appreciate them. You have so many people walking this life journey right alongside you.

But, even given all of that, it’s OK to feel that this day can be hard. It's OK to admit that you are not 100% content with your circumstances, although you know your faith teaches you to find peace however life has placed you.

You wish you had a partner with whom to raise your family. You wish there was someone to sit and laugh with you over a silly TV show or discuss how to handle a problem with one of the kids or just give you a hug when you are tired or upset. 

You wonder why so many of your friends who got divorced years after you did have found new relationships. You are happy for them . . . I know you truly are . . . but you cannot help but question when it might be your turn. You ask yourself what is wrong with you and then you get angry that you let yourself worry about such things or put yourself down.

And here’s an unpleasant truth – you occasionally wonder if you are serving out some kind of punishment. Since you pushed the good guys away and ended up in a bad situation, have you used up your chances and now you must live with the consequences?

I know, I know. You don’t live in these negative spaces. You don’t spend your days and nights brooding over your chronic singleness. Who has time for that anyway? You know for a fact that you do not need a man to "complete" you. But I also know that it’s on days like Valentine’s Day that the sad thoughts can start to creep in from the corners.

So, take a few minutes to acknowledge the negative talk as it passes through your mind today. These moments are only a small part of you, and it’s OK for those painful moments to matter. Acknowledge them, but don't stay with them. 

But then look at the beautiful flowers I got you, one for each member of the Moore Trio, and remember that you are so loved – by friends, by family, by God. How amazing and awesome is that? All of that love is worth celebrating on this holiday, so do it! And know that I still believe your partner, that one man who values you and thinks you are smart and funny and kind, is out there and the two of you will find one another when the time is right. I really believe that. So be patient, my sweet self. I know that can be a big ask when more years keep passing by, but I ask it nonetheless.

I love you, Sarah Helen Moore. Others do, too. That works both ways, so don't forget this . . .  I'm sure there are people out there who need to hear you tell them how much they are loved by you today, so make sure you do that. Today and every day. 


Friday, February 9, 2018

The Emotions of Selling a Symbol of So Many Memories (subtitle - I sold my French horn)

One of the few photos I have with my horn, circa 1995. I returned to my high school for alumni band and played with my siblings, who were still at the school.

I sold my French horn last night. That instrument had been mine for over twenty-five years. I walked onto my high school stage with it for wind ensemble and chamber orchestra concerts. I sat below that same stage as a musician in our school production of “Bye, Bye Birdie.” I took it to private lessons every week. I learned movements from gorgeous Mozart concertos. I played Christmas music on it as part of a brass quintet and won with it at ensemble competitions as part of a woodwind quintet. I dragged it across campus in college, convinced one arm permanently would be longer than the other. I took my Walkman out to my backyard, lay in the grass, and listened to soaring horns in Mahler and Dvorak and Saint-Saens and hoped I could reproduce such beauty on it.

I love the richness of the sound that comes from the bell of a French horn. I love the beauty of the instrument itself. I love how difficult it is to play well. I love that it can provide the background “oom pas” that are essential to keep the entire ensemble playing as one or it can demand attention when its notes rise over the clarinets or bassoons being played in front of it and take over a haunting melody. 

Playing the French horn gave me a great feeling of accomplishment when I made first chair in Wind Ensemble my senior year. There were four bands and three orchestras at my very large high school with over a quarter of the student population participating in one or the other . . . to be the top horn in my school was a big deal for me. I also learned to deal with disappointment when I was not selected to participate in the school’s annual concerto concert (especially since my primary French horn rival had been featured the year before) and I did not earn a spot in All State band. 

But for me, my French horn represented more than the music itself. While I was in an academic magnet program and played on the tennis team and was an active member of the Ecology Club and did other teenage stuff, most of my friendships and social life were connected to music. 

If I wrote down a list of my ten closest friends in high school, or even twenty, almost all of them were in band or orchestra. While excellent young musicians, some of these same friends also were varsity athletes and civically involved, a well-rounded resume that I hope is still encouraged at high schools today. 

My first kiss and then, a couple of years later, the first boy to whom I said “I love you” were both in the music program. My senior prom date? A friend from band. And, I tell you this . . . there were multiple band couples making out late at night while “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers played on our charter bus coming back from a competition in Virginia.

Before the bell for first period, many mornings I switched out my horn for the piano and practiced with the jazz band in the band room. When I skipped World History or AP Calculus, it was often to hang out in the band room. I can’t remember why our director did not make us go back to class, but it worked for me. If I had plans to go out with friends after school? We would meet up in the band room. 

The afternoons by the lake, the post-prom parties, the weekend slumber parties and crank calls to boys we liked, the taking over of Three Brothers Pizza at Beltway Plaza as we ate together before every concert . . . all with band people. 

I have so many memories attached to the hours I spent in rehearsals and concerts and festivals. We were a family, with the expected favorites and rivalries and dysfunction that come with that territory. I almost quit my junior year in high school because of the "politics" of the chair seating decisions. I did stop playing my sophomore year in college when I decided that not being a music major and therefore not part of the inner band circle coupled with sitting near an ex-boyfriend who was in the trumpet section made it all too awkward (oh, the things that matter so much at age nineteen.)

My fellow band and orchestra members and I, we shared a love of making music as an ensemble and also of developing a individual craft that takes months and then years of repetitive practice (which I often didn't like) before progress is apparent and anything resembling excellency is achieved.  

The reality now, though, is that my French horn has remained in its case in a closet for the better part of the last twenty years. I get it out once a while to show the kids and to let them try and create the embouchure needed for any decent sound to come out. I toyed with the idea of joining a community orchestra, just to have a reason to play again. It just didn’t happen. There wasn’t time. Or I didn’t make the time.

But here is a beautiful, new part of the story, as my horn moves to its next chapter. My French horn is now owned by a twelve-year-old girl who is about the same age I was when I started to play. I have known her since she was a toddler, thanks to preschool story time at the local library. While I lost touch with her family for several years, she now goes to the same middle school as my daughter. And you know what . . . she LOVES being in band and playing the French horn. Her eyes lit up when I handed her my horn and she prepared to play. She has been using a rental instrument for months and is so excited to have a horn of her own. She is in the county honors band and takes private lessons. Her friends are in band. She has found her home there. I gave her a hug and with tears in my eyes, I told her that I could not wait to attend a band performance and watch her walk out on stage holding the horn. I told her I hoped she would make countless memories and lifelong friendships because of time with music.

It was not easy making the decision to sell my horn. Part of me held onto the notion that I might play again someday. Part of me liked having the physical connection to so many great memories. Part of me just felt guilty because my parents had made such a big investment when they purchased it for me many years ago. Part of me wishes that my daughter wanted to play. (I’m still dropping hints to my son that he would make an excellent percussionist and assure him that, yes, he still could play basketball.) But, that difficulty is outweighed by knowing that I am helping to create similar memories for another young musician. I hope that in another quarter century, she is able to look back and smile in the same way I am as I write this post.

I still have my piano at home – the one on which my mom and grandma taught lessons. That is not going anywhere. I love being able to sit down and sight read for fifteen minutes when I need to lower blood pressure that had been raised by kids or work or when I just want to avoid folding laundry for a bit. I am determined that my kids still will understand music theory and history and be able to read the notes on the page and appreciate the stories the sounds create. Not having my French horn anymore doesn’t change what music means to me, but hopefully it will mean a whole lot to the girl who now has years ahead to see where it takes her.