A Shockingly Good LIfe
A Shockingly Good Life: March 29, 2015
I was lately shocked to recall what a great life I have.
Lucky me: I am often asked to substitute for the music faculty at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. The Governor’s School is a public residential high school for emerging artists in South Carolina and these students are phenomenal. The School—and I would say this even apart from it providing our family’s livelihood—is one of the best things South Carolina has going. Another would be Brookgreen Gardens, but that’s another post.
Recently I was fortunate to be the responsible adult presence for a rehearsal of the choir. All music students are required to sing in the choir and the concentration of talent is palpable.
Picture it. A large studio packed with SC’s most talented young musicians. Rachmaninoff’s ethereal All Night Vigil emerging in four part harmony. Through the wall of windows: evening deepened over the grand waterfall of Falls Park, streetlights gleamed halos through the drizzly mist, the last of the Copper Beech leaves waved like passengers departing on the Titanic.
They weren’t in top form: it was late in the afternoon, late in the week, a few days before Spring Break. Most people antsy. Everyone tired of winter. Substitute teacher. Even so, those 89 merged voices were mesmerizing.
Watching an alto fall asleep while singing the Kyrie of Bach’s Mass was also mesmerizing. How can she do that? I would fall on my face. And the audacity!
How can these kids, some of whom arrived like miracles from the most disadvantaged parts of this state, how can they take this for granted? Don’t they know what an amazing gift this is: to live among talented and committed peers; to dedicate four or more hours every day to your chosen art; to inhabit this beautiful campus with its incredible facilities? For two or three years? For free?
Then I wondered what my life would look like to an outside observer. Someone a couple of pews over in church, say.
I must look like the luckiest girl around. Brilliant, handsome husband; cute, mostly well behaved children; generous, venerable father—three generations worshipping together. I look like I have my stuff together. I volunteer and teach Sunday School. I can form coherent sentences.
Really? What do church people know of my loneliness and envy, my temper, my sacrilege? And what do I know of the Govies’ lives—balancing art and academics, away from home for the first time, performance pressure? Outside looking in is an unreliable witness.
Still, my observer would be right. I do have a great life.
I try to un-numb myself to the wonder of it because I know I take my gifts for granted. But. Too often I am mired in the minutiae of meals and mopping and, Mama! Okay, actually Mark does the mopping.
See—right there—why am I not fervently grateful every single day? A gorgeous, devoted man who mops? Damn!
But here’s the thing. If that’s my normal then it becomes so, well, normal. Unremarkable. This is an important coping strategy for humans, mopping aside. I have weathered some excruciating set-backs by following these four steps.
1. Become accustomed to the new normal. 2. Accept some new fresh hell. 3. Allow it to become old, normal hell. 4. Keep moving. The danger of this strategy is getting looped in steps 2 and 3. We can become accustomed to anything—and that is how people get trapped in abusive relationships, dead-end jobs and despair of all kinds.
Likewise, we can become accustomed to having everything move swimmingly along so that any minor shift in the current offends. When I was blindsided by a stomach virus last week not only did I feel weepy and weak, I felt betrayed. How dare disease intrude upon my normal?
The students wound down with a spiritual and even the sturdy rhythm and sterling tenor solo couldn’t engage them. I get it. You can only keep up the pace for so long.
I feel it every night. My children are, naturally, the smartest, cutest, most precocious children in the history of the world. And every night I am counting down the minutes (if not hours) until their bedtimes. It’s very hard to sustain appreciation for something difficult—even if it’s beautiful. Especially if it’s beautiful.
The true beauty of the Governor’s School is the gift of this normal. To be so steeped in an arts culture that you can take it for granted.
I am that steeped in grace. Who could imagine—grace as normal and unremarkable. A shockingly good life.