If you’re anything nothing like me, you end every year with pockets full of cash just aching to be turned into tax-deductible contributions to worthwhile non-profits.  And while I have a list of many such causes that I keep handy year-round, it’s worth pointing out that for the rest of 2016—just a few short hours now!—a generous grant is matching one-third of every contribution to Open Stage of Harrisburg, my home-away-from-home and generous East Shore studio host.  A $15 contribution is worth $20 to Open Stage.  $75 becomes $100.  $300 becomes $400.  You get the idea.  If your accountant is waggling her finger at you for saving up too much dough, here’s your chance!

But seriously.  Any gift would be appreciated beyond its impact on your wallet.

Have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve, and may your 2017 be full of reminders of love, peace, and good will.

Closet doorsI should start by saying, I totally get it.  When comfortable white liberals say that Trump voters are not welcome in their homes, or issue self-righteous screeds about how their outrage isn’t about politics—and perhaps especially when dudes who remind me of me in a lot of important ways demand the right to insist other people unfriend them—it’s a struggle for me not to nod my head and click “Like” and jump on the head-in-the-sand, I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-you bandwagon.  It would be easier for me to make it through the day smiling and feeling good about myself if I could just remove all of the “Red Feed” folks from my friends list and see nothing but news I agree with.

Except that’s (at least partially) what got us into this mess to begin with.

I’ve written before about my recognition, during my coming-out process, that as a white, US-native, able-bodied, mainline-Christian-turned-Unitarian-Universalist, upper-middle-class cis male, the “gay card” is really the only strike against me in the Privilege lottery.  I am—like most of the people I encounter in my small-town central-Pennsylvania daily routine—not accustomed to discomfort.  If I’m hungry, I eat.  If I’m cold, I turn up the thermostat.  If I’m lonely, I connect to the WiFi and see who’s online.  And if I see an opinion I disagree with… I shoot it down.  (Not always gently, I’m not proud to say.)

But in the back of my mind, I keep thinking about the note I received from an evangelical Christian friend shortly after I came out publicly at a concert in college (which is another story for another time).  “David,” she said, “I’ve always thought of gay people as dangerous perverts, as something to be afraid of and to fight against.  But now, knowing you’re gay… I know you, and that’s not who you are.  If you’re gay, then what I was taught was wrong.  And I’d like to apologize, if you’ll let me buy you a coffee.”

So here’s where I am now: I don’t believe “unfriending” is the solution.  I don’t believe sheltering ourselves from opinions we disagree with serves the common good.  I don’t believe my comfort is more important than the positive change I can achieve from participating in healthy dialogue.  And, most importantly, I don’t even pretend to believe that the answers I have are all the “right” ones.  I find it as rewarding to realize I’ve allowed honest engagement with other views to change my thinking, as I do when it works the other way around—when I emerge from a conversation feeling like I’ve planted a new seed in someone else’s mind.

I stepped out of one kind of closet more than 20 years ago.  I remember how cozy it was in there, never having to explain myself or apologize for offending people or wonder whether folks were judging me for touching my husband’s shoulder in public.  I appreciate every day that Mark and I share a nice introverted home in a lot outside of town, that serves as a retreat from society, a place of safety and rejuvenation.  And yes, sometimes I joke about staying here and ordering delivery for the next four years, as a kind of “vacation from reality.”

But there’s work to be done.  Conversations to have.  Hearts to connect with.  Minds to change.  And for those of us who have the ability to do these things, a closet is no place to hang out.

There must be something in the air.

Several times this week I’ve paused in the middle of teaching to interrupt a student’s spiral of self-deprecation and frustration.  The spiral is easy to recognize, either by the words that accompany it— “This doesn’t sound right.” … “That note is so high!” … “Why can’t I get this?” —or, once you know what to look for, by the slow-blinking, eyes-downcast head shake and shoulder slump.  It’s unmistakeable body language: “I’m not good enough.”

There’s a running joke in my field that music lessons tend to be 10% technique and 90% therapy.  And while it is a joke—I’m a vocal supporter of the mental health industry and believe everyone can benefit from working periodically with an excellent professional talk therapist—I know that among the lessons I’ve learned from my own therapist are several that I share often with my students:

  • that every artist healthy human being struggles with self-doubt,
  • that finding (and trusting) voices that recognize and appreciate our inherent worth is one of the most important (and most difficult) things we can do as artists humans, and
  • that I, in my role as an authority figure in their artistic lives, am (I hope!) one of those supportive voices.

So pianist Herbie Hancock’s anecdote about a botched chord in a gig with trumpeter Miles Davis has been on my mind a lot this week.  If you’ve hit a wrong note or two in your own life recently, maybe you’ll find this story moving too.  Click “play” on the video below to hear Hancock tell it for himself.  It’s worth the 90 seconds.

In the meantime, namasté, my friends.  The Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you.  Can you see it too?