Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The love you take is equal to the love you make

Life is too short and it’s too long. We complain without ceasing and then we weep when it’s done far too soon.

Life is not just another mystery; it’s the only mystery in town.

In the West we make sharp distinctions between sacred and ordinary, between sacred and profane. The East, in contrast, attempts to find transcendence in immanence, the divine in the ordinary. For example, rather than setting aside certain areas and consecrating them as holy, Confucianism infuses all of life with a spark of the divine.

I don’t feel the need to take a stand here as to which approach is superior. It’s beyond my pay scale, especially when I’m achy and vulnerable with tiredness as I am presently. And, tellingly, both West and East embrace both approaches to one degree or another, though each side clings to one approach more tightly than the other.

But let me be Eastern for a moment. Let me tell you of something that infuses my life with greater dimensionality. And let me assure you here that I’m speaking from the heart.

By the way, a year or two ago a student told me, “Dr. Bailey, I happened upon your blog last night.” “Oh?” I asked, non-committal. “Man, your voice is so…..strange. It’s just weird. For the life of me, I can’t figure it out.” “Oh, how’s that?” I asked. “How does it differ from my ordinary voice when I speak in conversation?” His response? “Oh, it doesn’t differ at all. It’s exactly the same.”

So I got that going for me.

Lydia's class is reading The Outsiders. I read it in high school though I have virtually no recollection of it at all. My best guess is that it was dated, and badly so, virtually the minute it went to press. Yet it must retain something timeless in it, for generation after generation of young people continue to read it. Apparently one of the rival gangs in the book prefers Elvis and another gang prefers the Beatles, but what this difference signifies—apart from superior musical discernment of the latter group-- escapes me.

Lydia's lit teacher heard through the grapevine (presumably from a grape named Lydia) that I was a Beatles nut, so she asked me to come to the class and discuss what was unique about John, Paul, George and Ringo.

She asked me to speak for about forty minutes. My talk was today.

What were my reactions to the opportunity?

Well what could have been my reaction apart from giddy delight?

Are you kidding me? Are you freaking kidding me?! You’re actually giving me forty minutes of uninterrupted floor time to proselytize The Fab Four?

What did I do to deserve such an opportunity?

Then I began to think about the actual task at hand. Does putting on a CD, kicking back and closing my eyes in bliss count as a lecture? Somehow I doubted it. How could I bring myself to omit a single detail, all of which are spellbinding? It occurred to me that this teaching opportunity, like any other teaching opportunity, needed to be done well. So what should I do? What music should I play? How in the world could I do justice to such a big topic? I wanted to be constructive and helpful. I wanted the students to take away a sense of what made the Beatles special. And that, sadly, would not be accomplished merely by me singing along to Beatles songs, no matter how much everyone would undoubtedly love such an enterprise.

I knew that I would need to spend time in preparation. Hours of preparation. Not one or two hours. But more likley six or more. I decided I’d create a PowerPoint and show plenty of photos and video clips as well as mix in some songs and song snippets. But what would be the connecting themes? And what photos to use? And what clips? What stories should I tell? And, most importantly, what songs would I use? I found the choices one part riches and one part paralyzing.

After a ridiculous amount of time sifting through various options, I condensed my message to just a few points, and I began to work at building the lecture.

So far so good. But as I worked through these thoughts I noted that I was, time and again, working through feelings of profound emotion. As I listened to various songs and reviewed clips, from out of the blue tears would spring forth and blur my vision. I flatter myself that I’m as self-aware as the next person (and undoubtedly as self-absorbed) but I could not account for my reaction. At least not fully at first. But the more I thought about it, the obvious began to emerge. I have very special feelings deep down about the Beatles, feelings complicated and sweetened and deepened by the role the Beatles played in long-gone friendships won and lost, and in ongoing friendships (and a marriage) won and maintained. Feelings complicated by the role the Beatles played in informing my emergence into adolescence and in subtly guiding me into a more mature world of thought and emotions. The Beatles were rebels, true, but they were cheerful and joyful rebels who celebrated love in all its expressions. They were the kinds of rebels a parent would want their children to follow. And now as my own children have enthusiastically embraced the Beatles the circle of life feels a turn richer.

Here I keenly feel my weakness of expression. So the best here I can do in describing my feelings for the Beatles is to use the words love and gratitude.

Irrational love.

Irrational gratitude.

By irrational I don’t mean ridiculous or juvenile, though I leave it to others to judge me so if they desire. (How could I protest?) Nor by ridiculous do I mean inappropriate. What I mean (I suppose) is that my feelings about the Beatles are ineffable and surely disproportionate in intensity and importance to what anyone would have reason to guess. Or even what I would have reason to guess. Disproportionate to what reason alone can explain.

But, see, here’s the thing. I count The Beatles as a solid in my life.

A solid.

My life has been on balance a happy one, far from misery, and characterized by an embarrassment of undeserved riches. My complaints are largely unwarranted and serve little more purpose than to keep me entertained.

And yet….

And yet life is life.

Life is a forever and inevitably a mixture of high and low, happy and sad, thrill and disappointment, peace and anxiety, promise and heartbreak. Life is a story of healthy bodies that, on one sunny day or another, finally break down and give out. One of my favorite thinkers, the 17th century Frenchman Pascal said this: “The life of man: inconstancy; boredom; anxiety.” I don't know how to improve upon that.

So all of us find coping mechanisms to divert our thought from darkness. Many of us simply refuse to think about what surrounds us and confronts us, either now or later. Others lose themselves in pleasure or in other distractions. Most of these diversions are perfectly innocent, and some are even productive. All of us use many such coping mechanisms, and we hardly think of them as mechanisms. We just think of them as living—and that’s fair, I think. At the end of the day life is as life does.

As for me, I have always known that with the Beatles I could dip into a deep deep well and draw forth satisfying and wonderfully refreshing water.

Just time after time after time, year after year after year.

In my own narrative they are an unbroken thread of joy and depth and exploration.

A solid.

So if this isn’t already alien enough for you, or if not just plain wacky, let me continue. In a non-metaphorical sense that I don’t pretend to integrate into a more traditional theology, the Beatles have played a spiritual component in my life. They helped me grow into adulthood. They helped give me expression to words and feelings I could not otherwise express. They made me feel happy and smart and hip. They made me feel more in love and more alive. The Beatles have been a sanctuary for me, a refuge.

This is simply irrational. But it’s certainly normal, too. People go to familiar parks or to beaches or to or this place and that to recenter themselves. We may feel more ourselves in art museums. Or while shopping. Or in church. Or reading books. Or taking walks. The Beatles were not the only such refuge for me, but they're one of the strongest and most satisfying. And now that I’ve rediscovered them through the eyes and ears of my children, I’m amazed all over again at how they continue to satisfy.

A solid.

And so here with this assignment I had an opportunity to discuss this source of joy and exploration and creativity that has meant so much to me. I was more than excited. I was more than desirous to do a good job. I began to think of the talk in spiritual terms.

Spiritual not in any strict theological sense but in the sense (for lack of a better word) of karma—that what goes around comes around. I came to sense strongly that this occasion was more than accidental. It was an opportunity to pay back to the Great Karmic Bank in the Sky, if only in the smallest measure, a tiny portion of the good I had been given. The truth is, I feel deeply indebted to The Beatles. My life is richer and more thoughtful and more joyful because of them. Just unambiguously so.

A solid.

I do not want to start a theological argument with anyone, but in my gut, just deep down, I believe that if a thirty-year thread of an unambiguous good isn't sacred, then I don't know what is.

Now, I’m certainly foolish but I’m not simply a fool. Of course I know that I cannot pay back the Beatles themselves. Of course. But that’s not my intent. Instead I felt that by introducing their music to young people in a way that conveys my own excitement about it, I am paying forward a gift that was given to me. If nothing else, hopefully I could invite these young adults to explore a new room of emotion and thought and creativity in their own lives.

I confess that with such high expectations, the reality of the experience today did not live up to my highest hopes. Though I had a lovely time, I felt as though ultimately I failed. And that’s okay. I am at peace about the experience. I felt failed but far from discouraged because the story of these students cannot be mine. All I can do is pray that these precious young people will discover their own version of The Beatles—their own special refuge that helps make their lives more vividly felt, more thrilling, richer and deeper. I pray that they too will find their own joys so that, to quote another great musical artist, at the end of the day they will smile with the knowledge that, yes, the going up is worth the coming down.


Andy D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy D. said...

Well I have several reactions to this wonderful post.

I identify with this 100%. Yes to the Beatles on some level, because I do love them and they have been there with me as well, though admittedly not nearly to the depths of how close you are to them. But of course to other groups as well...

Did they happen to request a guest speaker for next week on the sacred entity, man, and band known as Van Halen? Or as he/they are known in the more Eastern schools of thought, "the best guitar player in the entire world, ever"?

Honestly though, besides that... My own first "Beatles" was -- in addition to the Beatles, who I did start to listen to at a fairly young age -- actually Billy Joel. Amazing lyrical content, great music, and he just connected with me...

I love this post and do really identify with it, it is very well written and nicely conveys the deep emotion you feel about the Beatles.

I admit, I am most curious for, "What exactly did you say to those (poor) children, in the end?" Did you play music? Did you sing? Did you put on a rap beat and rap at them about the Beatles? Did you (as I fear) simply rock in a chair, head under a pillow, weeping? What level did you even attempt to go into about your own personal love for these guys? I wonder how I would do the same if asked to talk to middle school aged kids about something I love. Prioritizing your message, giving a full sense of the subject without sounding like a psycho, all of it.

And, did the conversation ultimately morph away from "The Beatles" and into "All About My Life, With Beatles Music Playing in the Distant Background; in Fact, Just Turn It Off So I Can Talk, Please"?

In three weeks, will the teacher be saying to her class, "Yes class, today is Tuesday, so that means Dr. Bailey is back to talk with us again about the Beatles, in his running commentary for us. And today his lecture is simply entitled, 'Hour 4: Ringo.'"

No no, these are just jokes, based on how much I know you love the Beatles, an opportunity to talk, and most of all, an opportunity to talk about the Beatles. Neat story!!


justcurious said...

A wonderful post. Nice of you to take us along on your Beatles rapture. I just want to know if you spoke in lyrics?

timekeeper said...

He will be too modest...but he did a wonderful job. The teacher was very impressed and Lydia said he did well, and she would think so even if he wasn't her dad. Another classmate (who had only heard the bizarre song "No. 9") said now she likes the Beatles. High praise. He had a great powerpoint that explained who they were, how popular they were, how unique they were, and ended with a sing along (that part had to be delayed because they ran out of time....shocking!). He did a Fab job!

Mike Bailey said...

Awww....I'm getting some nice props from Andy, Justcurious and Timekeeper. Thanks, y'all. I will note, however, that all three of you used the word "wonderful to describe the post," but Lydia, who was at the presentation, said I did "well."

See? Presentation Failure.

Steven Taylor said...

I got so wrapped up in the essay I almost forgot to note: great photo.

Christy S said...

So to go back to the game you played with Lydia the other day: If you had to choose to ONLY listen to Beatles and no other music for the rest of your life or NEVER listen to Beatles again but you could listen to any other music, which would you choose?

Mike Bailey said...

Lydia, er, Christy: I'd have to say good-bye to the Beatles.

Because as big as the Beatles were, they're not bigger than music. Bach and Beethoven and Brahms are also good, just to mention a few other "B's."

No individual, even the very best in their field, is bigger than their field, are they?

Is Picasso bigger than art?

Is Babe Ruth bigger than baseball?

Is Tiger Woods bigger than womanizing?

I don't think so.

VERY good Lydia-type question. Or should I say Lydia asks great Christy-type questions?

Andy D. said...

MB -- that is an interesting, and well-reasoned answer...

But also the best way to ensure you'll never hear your all time favorite songs, ever again. No more Eleanor Rigby... no more Help... No more Sgt. Pepper's... No more Across the Universe.

No, one artist is not bigger than the field. But if we're going to intellectualize it, your argument minimizes that someone could potentially be "the best" in their field. And therefore create "the best" at what they do. And therefore be necessary listening and give the most pleasure -- or worse, create the biggest rent in the works if they're missing.

So while one would still be able to listen to Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, and the Butthole Surfers (to continue your "B" analogy), and heck I'll even throw Milli Vanilli in there, one would forever be deprived of listening to "the best" in the field.

I'm not saying I disagree with your conclusion; it would be very hard to listen to one band for the rest of one's life... But to be deprived of the best, and of all your favorites... I'm not sure is as easy a choice as that.

I can eat any hamburger I want for the rest of my life, but I know I will never again even have a chance at tasting the best hamburger... I could see any standup comedian I want to, but I know in advance that he/she will not be the funniest... I will have many friends in my life, but I know none of them will ever be my best friend...

I mean, that's a difficult choice isn't it!!!

Curse you, Lydia, for creating this kind of free thinking questioning in MB's blog readers!!!


Technoprairie said...

Did any of the boys ask realize that Ringo narrated the Thomas the Train videos?

My word is "ousno" which is probably what MB will say when he answered my question.