Movement 1 - There are Teachers Everywhere
Fame and Peace
"I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
Or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
But because it never forgot what it could do."
~ Naomi Shihab Nye
- I was recently in San Francisco, softly playing an out-of-tune piano in a hotel lobby, waiting for a cab. I was meeting some friends for dinner at a restaurant on lower Mission Street. The cabbie ducked his head in the door, heard me playing, and muttered, "Hey, I need a piano player." As we sped through the hills, down Geary and past Van Ness, this innocent and weathered man-child began to tell me his dreams. "I'm goin' to New York, back to school, so I can sing on Broadway. I'm gonna do it. I promise you.
- At first I receded, not wanting to get too drawn into his animated world, but he wasn't posing or strutting. I looked at his eyes in the rearview mirror. He was searching mine. No, this one was just a soft, spinning soul with nothing left between his feelings and the world. So I inquired and he said that he'd found his calling. He was meant to sing, in particular, he was captivated, obsessed with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
- By now he was doing three things at once. He was trying to find the restaurant, trying to look at me through the mirror, and trying to hook up his CD player so he could sing along and show me his gift, his obsession. And there I was, spinning through the streets as this raw soul was singing the Beast's lament in the rearview mirror.
- As he sped away, I realized that I'd been graced by a living image of what we all struggle with wanting to have our humanity accepted while searching for a place to land. He was me. He was all of us. My God, we're all driving beat-up cabs, obsessed with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, just waiting for someone - anyone - to sing to. And though he thought he was after fame, like most of us, he was sorely after peace.
- Like me. From an early age, I so wanted to make it, to be successful. It almost didn't matter at what. I think this came from a drive to achieve and the secret wish to get love from strangers, to make up for the estrangements of living in my home.
- Of course, this quest for celebrity is one of our modern addictions. It's as if being seen and applauded will drown out the pain and confusion of our lives. It's hard to believe, but it takes courage and fortitude, and often sudden suffering, to accept that we are ordinary. And then it takes humility and openness to discover the wonder waiting there.
- For me, in particular, it was the pierce of every breath after losing a rib that broke me of my search for fame. I found myself wanting less and less, until I wanted simply to breathe, to wake and watch the night turn to day. I found that pain had opened me to the music beneath the music.
- You see, I had tried so hard to please that I never realized no one is watching. I imagined, like every child at school, that my parents were sitting just out of view like those quiet doctors behind clean mirrors. I even felt the future gather like an audience, ready to marvel at how much I had done with so little.
- But when I woke bleeding after surgery, with all those white-coated angels breathing against me, I couldn't talk, and the audience was gone. I cried way inside and the sobs were no more than the water of a de-shelled spirit soaking ground.
- Now years have passed, and I want long hours in the sun to see the birch fall of its own weight into the lake. How it seems to punctuate God's mime. Nothing sad about it. And sometimes at night, when the dog is asleep and the owl is beginning to stare into what no one ever sees, I stand on the deck and feel the black spill off the stars, feel it coat the earth, the trees, the minds of children half asleep, feel the stillness evaporate all notions of fame into the space that waits for light.
- Now I understand that, despite our pressing busyness and endless worry, we need that stillness from which all things grow. Despite our distorted want to be the sun, we are more like plants growing toward the light. Despite our secret want to be in control, we need the armless surrender of a drop longing for the ocean.