Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tools in their Toolbox: Find a tribe

Several weeks ago, a technician came to our house to repair my mother's old piano.  The incident reminded me of her insatiable love for music -- in every form it took.

Even though she bore four children, there was not a true musician among us, much to her dismay.  Heaven knows she tried.  We played instruments and we took lessons, but the only way any of us would make it to Carnegie Hall would be to buy a ticket.

My mom's first language was music, and I firmly believe that everything in her life was translated through that lens.  She thought music.  She wrote music.  She practiced music, even waiting in the carpool line. She worshiped God through music. She "spoke" music.  It was her connection with other people.  After she passed away, I found out about a cellist who met my mom when he was seven.  She did not ask him if he played an instrument.  She asked him, "What instrument do you play?"  That question alone launched him into a musical career that served him well all through high school and college.

I had a different language, one that she did not comprehend at all.  I "spoke" words, always a stack of books in my room, and like her ever-present violin, a book accompanied me wherever I went, ready to read, whenever the opportunity came. (Some things never change!)  My mom often practiced her violin late into the night, hiding in the bathroom with the ventilation fan going to mask the noise. I read.  I slipped under my covers with a flashlight to finish just one more chapter...and then another.  Reading then became just a warm-up for writing the stories all around me, the stories that are always there, hanging like ripe fruit from heavy-laden trees and the poetry that breathes deeply through our senses.

And still, despite our differences, Mom pushed music, encouraging each of us not just to play an instrument, but to participate in the orchestra, band, chamber ensemble, and whatever musical group she could find for us.  And so we joined, sometimes reluctantly.

I never understood her rationale until a college football game less than a month ago at the same university that I attended.  Out on the field, the marching band lined up in formation.  It first brought back a flood of memories from when I marched in the band so many years ago as a transfer student.

And then, it quite suddenly hit me.  There was my tribe.

It was not the music mom was pushing.  She knew that  I needed a tribe.  I needed a group to belong to, a narrow thread of connection, perhaps, but a community with which to navigate the harrowing straits of high school and later, college.

Our own girls traveled through the wilderness of high school by participating in cross country, swimming, lacrosse, student government, and orchestra.

A short time later at the local grocery where I shop, I conversed with Brandi, a cashier I have come to know, who is a single mom of an eleven year old daughter.  "How are things going?" I asked, knowing that her daughter had started back to school.  Brandi rolled her eyes, "Well, she wants to learn to play flute and join the band."

I just smiled.  "Encourage her in that," I said.

"She needs a tribe."

It is just one of the tools in their toolbox they need before they leave home.

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