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Saturday, August 17, 2013

All God's Creatures Got a Place in the Choir

© 2013 by Tom King
VGA AYA team - I'm in front of the left-most door arch on the back row.

We are defined by our choices, but we are shaped by powerful experiences. Psychologically, for an experience to be life changing there are two critical factors that need to be in place:

My friend Bo Walker & me doing campfire songs.
  • Comradeship --  We need, at least sometime in our lives, the comradeship of others. These may not be deep and lasting friendships. After it's all over we may go our separate ways and never speak to those with whom we have shared one of these powerful life experiences again.  But if you ever bump into one of those old comrades again, you will find yourself taking up conversations you left off decades ago as if no time had passed between. This happens between soldiers, survivors of disasters, people who share a common endeavor and even schoolmates.  One of the reasons books like Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Narnia are so riveting is because they tell the tale of friendships forged in common trials. If we've never experienced that, we instinctively know we have missed something important in our growing up.
  • Competence -- When it's all over, a life-changing experience makes you feel as if you've accomplished something. You've learned a skill and used it well. You've built something that will last. You've made something better by your collective efforts. You've made something beautiful. It is this knowledge that your experience has been worthwhile, even if only to the quality of your own life that makes it life-altering.
Another camp group effort we were proud of.
Top Row: Glenn Sackett and one of the Crone Boys
Bottom row: Tim Braden, me, Jack Allen
Carol & Steffie in the boat I think.
Two of the most potent shaping influences in my life were my summers at Lone Star Camp and the times I was privileged to be a member of a choir or vocal group. I've had other successes later in life that I'm proud that I was a part of, but all of these experiences share one thing. I was not alone and we all did something good as a result of our collective efforts.

You can, of course, achieve spectacular successes all by yourself with little help from anyone else, but in the end, that happens very seldom.  Every time someone accepts an Oscar, an Olympic gold medal or some public honor, they inevitably thank others for making the success possible. Only the most boorish and clueless take all the credit for themselves. It's why, for some folk, the awards, accolades and money showered upon them to honor their talent is not enough.  Success in isolation always rings hollow and if you cannot see the contribution of your comrades or your push them aside in favor of doing it all yourself, then you cut yourself off from the most powerful rush available to human beings.

Campers learning to rescue a swamped canoe
Recently, the Internet has vastly expanded our capacity to communicate. More and more we reunite with our old friends and make new ones who share out hobbies and interests, our beliefs and tastes. A phenomenon has begun, made possible by camcorders, movie-making software, cell-phone and instant online communication - the flashmob.  It's true that we've seen this type of group activity used for evil, as anything good will inevitably corrupted. The devil is, after all, "...walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."  But the origins of the flashmob concept came from a pure human desire to create art just for the joy of it and to surprise and delight ordinary people who were not at all expecting a Broadway musical to suddenly break out in
the middle of the food court.

These kinds of flashmob events benefit, not only the folks who suddenly experience an orchestra playing Beethoven in the middle of their lunch break, but also to the artists who put together the performance.  The experience of working together with comrades to create a work of physical or auditory art and leaving behind a joyful memory for everyone and a video of the whole thing that they can share with others is a quickie version of that life-changing experience I'm talking about.

Working with troubled kids at Odyssey Harbor.
We all worked together to build a horse trail
and an obstacle course for the rec program.

If you've never had that experience, I highly recommend getting involved in one.  Join a church choir, take a dance class, try out for a community theater group, join a volunteer project or take a summer off and work at camp.  Do something that demands of you every skill you can muster; something that leaves you exhausted, but happy when it's done.  Do something that takes you outside of yourself and gives to others.

Then, when you're an old geezer like me, you'll be able to lean back in your chair and call to mind that leafy summer when..............."

And your wife will ask you what you're grinning about.

Tom King

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