(This week is the 19thinstallment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about seeing things as they really are. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
WILLIAM H. JOHNSEN
(Widely attributed to W.H. Johnson but no source can be found)
“Arrrrrgh!” There it was again. Building up to the big fortissimo. The dramatic ascending run in the upper woodwinds. Here it comes . . . everyone is expecting it . . . then nothing. The whole clarinet section just dribbled away, and the flutes faked it completely, the entire climax strangled.
“Woodwinds! What’s going on? We’ve been working on this piece for two months and you still can’t play it?” I couldn’t help sounding frustrated.
“It’s really hard, Mr. Lee. It goes over the break,” Patrick complained.
“Of course it’s hard—but not that hard. You have to practice it. You can’t just blindly hope it will work out. You have to do something. Hope is for losers. Practice is for winners.”
I grabbed my clarinet and played the passage. The “break” on clarinet is that point on the instrument where you change registers—going from all your fingers up to all your fingers down. It’s a fine-motor-skill challenge that takes lots of practice to perform smoothly. I breezed through the part with a big crescendo and ended raucously on the fortissimo at the melodic summit.
“That’s how it should sound,” I said brusquely.
“But you’re a professional, and we’re just students,” justified Nora.
“I’m not really a professional, and you can do it. You just have to practice. I did my practicing. You have to do yours. I can’t do it for you. Nobody can. It’s one of those things in life you just have to do for yourself, like wiping your own bum.”
“Ew, gross!” A chorus of groans. Kids don’t like it when you’re too explicit.
“That’s a good comparison,” I said. It had popped into my mind on the spur of the moment, but I liked it. “You see how embarrassed you are at the thought of having someone else wipe your bum? You should be that embarrassed at the thought of having someone else do your practicing. Practicing your instrument is your own personal and private work. You should be proud that you have the maturity to do it all by yourself, without any prompting or nagging.
“So take this part home and practice it. Our concert is in three weeks. That’s enough time to learn this. But if you procrastinate for two of those weeks, you’ll never do it. It will kill you. Imagine what your bum would be like if you put off wiping it for two weeks! That would kill you too.”
Even more groans. This analogy hit too close to home, and maybe I had dragged it on too long.
“So just do it! Then you won’t have to put up with my disgusting analogies.”
I took a deep breath to calm myself down. When it feels like I’m working harder than all the students combined, I get frustrated. I know they don’t deserve it, so I tried to let my love come through instead of my frustration.
“Life’s like that. All of you are teenagers. I was a teenager once. I know, I know—that was in the last century. But I did most of the same things you are doing now and felt the same things you’re feeling. My life had melodrama just like yours. But I practiced my clarinet anyway. You can practice too, in spite of everything else in your lives.
“Each of us has to go through this life for ourselves. We get to go through life for ourselves. I practiced my clarinet, but that doesn’t help you. You have to practice your clarinet for yourself. This life is for you to live. Grab life by the horns (pun intended) and pull all you can out of it. Don’t make excuses. Just do it! Your life is your responsibility.
What does this musical analogy mean for us? In our spiritual lives, no one else can do our praying and meditating for us. Oh, sure, we can pray for each other. That certainly helps. But no one can make our spiritual progress for us. We have to do our own praying, meditating, studying, forgiving, loving—all of it. No one else can make this spiritual journey for us. It is our own personal and private journey.
Taking responsibility applies to all parts of life—spirit, mind, and body. No one else can do our jogging for us or quit eating junk food for us. No one else can study for our exams or do our loving for us. No one else can change the world the way we can.
So what practicing have you been procrastinating in your spiritual life? Praying, reading, meditating? It’s easy to put off the quiet call of our spirit amidst the noisy, insistent demands of our modern physical world. Yet our soul longs for a deeper relationship with the Soul of God. Praying is talking to God. Meditating is listening. Both are important in any relationship.
Do you want a greater sense of love in your life? While meditating, try visualizing yourself as a lamp through which the Light of God shines into the world. Not your light but God’s light—for the Light of God truly is within you.
Prayer and meditation are where we start, but they must lead to action. As St. Augustine is often quoted to have said (although no one seems to really know who said it), “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” After we pray to be the light of the world, we must do something to be the light of the world. For it is in doing that we become. In our spiritual quest to become more, perhaps a saint, we must do the things a saintly person does. Whatever life throws at us, we have to respond with gratitude, forgiveness, and love. That’s how we manifest the Light of God in the world. No one else can do it for us. Get practicing.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.