Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

My Way

Not long ago, I happened upon a YouTube video of a TED Talk, and the end of the thing got me to thinking a bit. Which, according to what TED Talks purport to be, is kinda the point.

These TED Talk things can be anywhere from profound to pretentious – behold, an eight-minute speech by someone who wishes to present Big Ideas! – which is to say, they can be hit or miss. Some deliver the goods, some don’t (in my estimation; take my opinion or leave it).

This particular Talk was presented by a Australian standup comedian called Alice Fraser, a performer of whom I wasn’t aware until probably a month ago or so, which is not her fault. She is funny in an understated manner that I appreciate a lot.

Ms. Fraser’s Talk begins with some fairly smart commentary on Cosmopolitan magazine quizzes and supermodel attributes, moves into a riff on mourning via a story about an odd funeral that she went to once, and then dances around the topic of public restrooms and their purpose (you had to be there, I guess), before swerving suddenly into the Good Bit.

This week, that Good Bit, the last segment of the Talk, got my attention mainly because of what time of the year it is now.

Hold on, I’ll explain.

Here’s a transcript of Alice Fraser’s last, Good Bit.

I feel maybe closer to death than a lot of people, because my Mum has been dying since before I was born. She was diagnosed with MS at twenty-five; and my whole life has been marked by a series of visits to hospital, increasingly often and of increasing seriousness, where parts of my Mum were stripped away. Every part – her balance, her ability to use her hands very well, her ability to go to the toilet properly – all of these things were stripped away; and every time, you think, ‘is that the part of the person [that has gone,] after which she is no longer a person? Memory; her love of books; her articulacy [If that’s not a word, it should be. -Ed.]; all of these things, one after the other, they go away. And every time, you think, ‘this is grief. This is mourning. This is death,’ –and it’s not. It’s not; she’s still there.

And, this is the thing: when somebody’s dying, and you know that they’re dying, what do you say to them? You say, ‘I love you’. You say ‘I love you’ a lot, a lot more than you need to. It’s not like she doesn’t know that I love her; of course she knows that I love her. It’s because you know beyond a certain point you won’t be able to say it anymore.

So how do we deal? We don’t deal with even simple grief, and we don’t have a way of dealing with complicated grief. And I’m not a particularly religious person; my Dad was Jewish, my Mum was Catholic, I was brought up Buddhist. I’m oppressed, repressed, and depressed. [laughter; gentle applause] BUT, the reality is, we’re all dying. Some of us are more dying than others. And the only thing that I can think of that’s worth doing, when somebody dies … is taking that last part of them, the part of them you remember the most – for my Mum, it’s her infinite sweetness and her care for other people – other people, it might be other things – and that one thing is what I want to do now. It’s what I want to practice. It’s what I want to get better at. It’s what I want to take forward, into my life. …

And the only way of remembering somebody, the only way of carrying them forward into your life, is by picking one thing, and doing that thing.

Thank you.”

 

It’s coming toward seven years, now, since the unexpected passing of George N. Parks, who was my college marching band director but a lot of other people’s too. Every early September since 2010, along with those other people, the community of people who were his students … as well as an extended community of people who weren’t UMass marchers but were his students too, or were affected by him in some way … we have all (collectively and individually) settled on different ways at different times to commemorate, or honor, or emulate, or carry on his legacy … or mourn. Sometimes somber, sometimes rooted in the humorous; sometimes looking back with sadness or smiles or both, sometimes looking forward with trust or trepidation or both. One year, the focus seemed to be on the funny stories. Another year, it was making note of the ways in which we (collectively and individually) continue to live our lives #BecauseOfGNP.

Ms. Fraser’s thesis may not fit this situation exactly, only because Mr. Parks’ passing was sudden, rather than gradual … there was exactly zero time to prepare, to work out how we were going to carry on that hypothetical “last part of them, that you remember the most”.

As well, as with many (arguably, hopefully all) people in the world, there may not be just one last part of someone that you remember the most. I was trying to think, what was that last part of Mr. Parks that I remembered the most? Intense performer; caring teacher; all those Starred Thoughts… By the time I’d thought for only a moment, I’d come up with many more than just the one part, and how do you narrow it down? And if you do, you leave off some other part of how he lived his life that seems worth not leaving off.

Four years ago at this time, I wrote a blog post in this space called “Lift Up … Up Up Up Up Up”, which was “three short stories that may offer some idea about just why George Parks impressed the hell out of me.”

The first story’s moral was: “Starred Thought®: Go out of your way to treat people kindly.”

The second story was about taking time to pay attention to people, and care for them, whether you’ve known them forever or you’ve just met them; and its moral was: “Starred Thought®: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

The third story was about some sage professional advice about not throwing in the metaphorical towel, and its moral was: “Starred Thought®: To become a great teacher: 1. get a response, 2. care.”

The three stories, lumped together, described just how skilled George Parks was at holding other people up, lifting them up, propping them up when necessary. So, four years ago, that was my “last part” to carry forward into the world. But still, I end up considering the many other ways GNP made everybody around him better …

I am large; I contain multitudes.”

The song Mr. Parks brought to his band … the one which his band has in turn brought to its audiences for thirty-three years and more … said, “more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Which, as it turns out, is curious, if not ironic: with him, unless you only ever saw him at football games, there wasn’t just one single way that he reached out to people – not one single facet, not one single approach that was obviously dominant, obviously his way.

So everybody has their particular way of remembering. Everybody takes a different “thing” (if they even can narrow it down to just one thing) from Mr. Parks’ presence and effect on our lives.

Which may actually be the best “last part” to take forward, into our lives.

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September 16, 2017 Posted by | GNP, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Big Deal

Something I’ve said to lots of people … so if you’ve heard it before, my apologies … is this:

Any time someone visits a former teacher of theirs in their classroom, it’s a big deal. The former student only thinks they’re the most excited to reconnect … but the former teacher recognizes that the student returned of their own free will. And that’s a truly big deal.

Perhaps the only bigger deal is: when a former student [in this case, perhaps more appropriate and accurate to say former young-adult music-ensemble colleague?] invites a former teacher [college band director] to their wedding. “Your presence is requested at this Life Event.” A big deal, indeed.

So this weekend I happily attended such a Life Event, the third time I’ve been invited to do so. The general concensus was that the day was at least 99.8 percent perfect in terms of logistics and meteorology.

The added bonus was the presence of a rank of other former students [young-adult music-ensemble colleagues] – friends of the bride, who had all run out onto a college football field at halftime together, wearing purple-and-white uniforms and carrying musical instruments – whom I had not seen (give or take a Homecoming) for a decade or so.

The nuptials were, of course, the impetus for getting us all back in the same room again; they were the point of the day, and it was meet and right to emphasize them. Suzie (along with her new husband) gets the credit.

The bonus feature of the day, though, was no mere footnote. Spending the afternoon with Alison, Julie, Suzy, Tom, Maggie, Caroline, Rose and James … and marinating in the glow for the rest of the evening? Glorious.

Suzie gets the credit for that, as well.

The hoped-for goal, obviously, is for there to be a maximum of one wedding per person. Shame we can’t experience this particular day again, though.

August 14, 2017 Posted by | band, friends, HCMB, marching band | , , , | Leave a comment

A Brief Word About False Equivalence

We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides. On many sides.”

 

He said, “on many sides”.

At first, I thought, “great: so in addition to everything else, he’s a both-sider-ist.”

But that’s just what political TV pundits do, to make sure that they still have jobs when next week’s “Meet the Press” air time rolls around. Standard Beltway media-industrial-complex stuff.

Then I focused on the fact that he repeated the phrase “on many sides”.

And yes, often he’ll take a phrase from a prepared statement and repeat it, often incorporating an adverbial modifier to amplify the concept. Gracelessly, but he often does so. Sometimes I chuckle at how obvious it is when he goes off-book like that. He thinks he’s throwing out a riff like some kind of neon jazz improviser.

But this time, he repeated “on many sides. On many sides,” and it wasn’t just graceless faux-oratorial skill.

It was as if to emphasize a belief … or the belief of one of his ghoulish advisors … that it was important to seem to spread the blame around. So that the people who actually egregiously displayed hatred, bigotry, and violence, were let off the hook.

Also so that people who weren’t listening closely thought he was just laying out standard public-figure concern-pablum and wouldn’t pay much attention. But so that people who support this kind of egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence, would interpret his remarks to mean tacit support for them.

The man at the top of the United States government is now no longer merely providing cover (via his unstable behavior) for his Cabinet Secretaries and for the current Congressional leadership to advance their increasingly awful initiatives and agendas.

He is now providing cover (in actual prepared statements) for actual, rioting-in-the-streets neo-Nazis.

In 2017.

August 14, 2017 Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment