21 December 2008

Look Everywhere, At Everything

It's difficult if not impossible to "know"

the truth
another person
the right direction to take
what I want
what I've learned

A few weeks ago I was in the cast of a staged reading of Langston Hughes' "The Black Nativity." I was one among a cast of professional and semi-professional "theater people." I'm not an "actor" in the strict sense of the word; my untrained performance style is more understated or intuitive than formally trained players and I felt decidedly out of place. There were moments when my decision to participate in the production seemed a huge mistake.

But it wasn't. It put me in the Lower Ninth Ward singing gospel holiday music under a full moon--"soul food" doesn't get much bolder than this.

I was introduced to Miss Sarah's House Amphitheater (the enchanting venue where we performed) and Keith Calhoun's work (an extraordinary photographer whose work I am apparently the last to discover). And it placed me at an after-party in the future home of the Tekrema Arts Center--an inspiring site.

(photo by Keith Calhoun)

Some say there are no coincidences and no mistakes. I prefer to think in terms of there being no throw-away events in a life; everything matters, everything teaches. Even the mistakes.

It was a mistake in 1976 to give that homeless guy the key to my room at the Halifax. He emptied both my refrigerator and penny jar which was a significant inconvenience (though I had to admit it was nice of him to leave the key at the front desk). But who's to say a greater misfortune might have befallen him or me or someone else if I hadn't given him the key?

It was a coincidence that a dorm-mate from my first year of college in Greencastle, IN wandered into the public library in Bloomington IN 21 years later on the afternoon I was filling in at the circulation desk for an absent coworker. Our conversation as I processed her book selections made a profound impression on me. My sense of myself as a freshman was as an inadequate, unattractive misfit. I dropped out after one miserable year.

"We all wondered what happened to you," she revealed almost a generation later. They had all seen me as "most likely to succeed" and anticipated being able to say "we knew her when" at some bright future celebration.

The vast contrast between what They thought and what I thought stunned me. I learned something that day that I have never forgotten: my perspective is not the only way of looking at things and in fact may be very different.

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