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Finding the words

It has been a month since I posted anything. A month. Sometimes finding the words to express joys, sorrows, and for me now – the digestion of thinking – it’s a translation issue. It is hard enough to go between words and music, let alone begin translating living into words. The past month has encompassed a lot of living and it is through the people we meet and the stories they tell that inspiration takes hold yet again.

I seem to listen best when the lure of routine is broken and there is the luxury of space. What do I mean? Every so often my job includes travel, and personally I crave connection and interaction with those beyond my immediate experience. When in a different setting, physically, culturally, environmentally, there is a necessity for either adaption or calcification, as a form of perseverance or protection I suppose. I would like to think I am open to experience. There are also times we (certainly I) am not always receptive to stories, life, to the water we swim in and the air we breathe, but over the past month, I was.

Inspiration and affirmation comes from the most unsuspecting places. Walking and talking, sharing meals, making music, and laughing. (that’s not even a sentence, but it stands alone for me) Here is a brief glimpse into a few of those moments of living that have taught me, I want to savour them and pass them on to you.

1. The man on the street corner in Chinatown, Los Angeles.

I was standing on the street at a crosswalk, and I was chatting to my friend and colleague as we waited for the light to change. A small, older man came to join us in waiting – he was carrying a plastic bag with food in it, and he was smiling. ‘Duck. It’s duck tonight,’ he said as he held out his bag to show us, ‘and tomorrow I will make French Roast Beef.’ We exchanged smiles and then he pointed across the road to a pink building. ‘You see that building? With the railing on the top windows?’ (like a little balcony) We looked and could see it. It was a nondescript building, separated from the others in the row only by it’s pink paint. As he told his story, we were vaguely aware that the light had already changed. Instead of hurrying on, we listened.

‘Upstairs, that was my father’s room in 1939. He came here and could not speak English. He was a sailor and he shared that room with another man from France who could only speak French. They could not understand each other’s words, but they shared something; they were both chefs.  They taught one another the recipes from their countries. That is how I know how to cook French Roast Beef,’ he said with a smile.

2. The young artist from Europe.

He spoke about the moment he knew he could do it. It was on a trip to America in the early 2000s, when phones and internet access were not quite what they were now, and having landed after a long flight, he found his pre-made plans had crumbled. He had nowhere to stay and $20 in his pocket. When he tried to withdraw cash, his European bank card was refused. He was looking at one of those impossible situations. He thought and reacted – taking a free bus to the public library he waited in line to use the free 10 minutes of internet and found student accommodation at a nearby university for $10 per night. He spoke of finding a cardboard box and how he cut it up into 20 squares and used what he had to draw on them. With the remainder he made a sign saying ‘Art – $10-$20’ and stood out on the street with what he made. He went from not having enough money to pay for his next night’s bed to having $200 at the end of the day. He said that after that day he knew he could do it.

I cannot say how moving these stories were for me. The first man had such joy that he had to share it. He had love and respect and joy and I wish to also be like that now and when I am 70+. The artist’s story hits closer to home. The artist had no choice but to believe, with everything stripped away and facing the possibility of nothing, and he did it. However, it does not take that extreme a situation to realise value. When my routine was altered, I found myself not on automatic pilot, not jumping to the next task, not full of self-judgement, but living and being so very aware.

Why is it so easy to do this when there is the slightest change? It happens at conferences, retreats, why does it not happen at breakfast or in the corridor? I think it can.

Recently, to my students, I quoted an article that was in the Wall Street Journal: Are you as busy as you think? by Laura Vanderkam. It gives the fantastic example of how our perception impacts our reception of everyday happenings. The author suggests replacing ‘I didn’t have time’ with ‘It wasn’t a priority’. (ouch!) 

Those moments of listening and hearing, whether it was the words of others, the space and breath between notes in music, or the scenery around us, they remind me that this can be a choice.  I’m working on bringing that home.

Featured image is my cup of tea, on a decking in Los Angeles.

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