The Only Constant

Utah's Delicate Arch began forming 300 million years ago.
In the way of all things, it will eventually collapse.

I didn't see Rosalie's retirement coming.

I've known Rosalie since 2005, when an activity she led at a workshop turned my professional world upside down. Here's a little background on why: I studied music education from 1979-1984, expecting to spend my career directing high school (and eventually college) bands. By the time I finished my MS, I was beginning to wonder if band was really the place for me. A year of actual public school teaching spooked me, and I ran back to the academy, this time to become a minister. I was not to give music teaching another try until 2003, almost two decades after I finished my training.

From 2003-2005, I was the kind of music teacher I'd trained to be--or, rather, defaulted into being, since my focus in those training years had been almost exclusively on instrumental, not general, music. I taught out of whatever curriculum was in place when I arrived at a school, was clueless about how to motivate children to appreciate it, and mostly found it to be hard work. Then, at the beginning of my third year, I went to Orff 101, a half-day workshop introducing me to the improvisational, playful, hands-on approach to music education known as Orff Schulwerk. It was good workshop, with plenty of useful ideas, but the best part of Rosalie, wordlessly leading a percussion circle so playful and creative that I suddenly knew exactly what kind of teacher I needed to be, however many dues I would have to pay to be able to do what she did.

In the years since then, I had the privilege of working with Rosalie when she was president of the Portland Orff Schulwerk Association board. When, in 2016, I was offered my current job in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, my first thought was "I get to work with Rosalie!"

And then, two days ago, she announced her impending retirement.

I've never seen her work with children, and now it appears I'll never get the chance. I've also had few opportunities since 2005 to see what she can do with adults, so I can't really say she's been one of my mentors. I've spent hundreds of hours learning from the gurus of the San Francisco International Orff Program, and probably less than an hour with Rosalie in that role. Even so, I know that what she showed me thirteen years ago was a beacon to what I could become. To put it in theological terms, it was my Road to Damascus experience. Those other teachers shaped me in many ways, but it is not the Orff approach to create clones of great teachers. My pedagogical identity has evolved organically to encompass my talents with words, as well as my passion for creating and arranging both found and composed music. At my best, I evoke the sense of play Rosalie brought to that rhythm circle. But I'm also more verbal in my teaching than those who know me outside of the classroom might expect. It's the preacher in me, a performer with language who lives to clarify, explain, and narrate; but also the novelist, taking themes and shaping them into new creations. And finally, there's the obsessive enthusiast, intrigued by a rhythm, a timbre, a tapestry of sounds that can express something genuine and beautiful. My best lessons, in true Orff style, are half-hour group improvisations.

I'm going to break away from that tangent now to return to the shock I felt when I read the email about Rosalie's retirement. It's not as if there were no signs of it coming: she's been teaching in TTSD for decades, and is really the dean of our cohort of elementary music teachers. Since I arrived in the district, she's had both her knees replaced, and has made it clear she just doesn't have the time or enthusiasm anymore to deal with district politics. In her email, she said she's ready to do the things she's had to put off, and wants to do them while she's still young enough to enjoy them. I sympathize with that: there are plenty of places I'd like to go at times of the year when I just can't. The last time I saw northeastern fall foliage, I was in my 20s. Many of the places I'd like to visit are just too expensive to travel to in the summertime. As wonderful as it is to have a ten-week uninterrupted break every year, I would leap at the chance to have those weeks parceled out through the year, so I could experience the hot places in cooler seasons, and see all the places at times when they're not swamped with tourists.

But again, I get away from the presenting issue here: someone who's close to my age (I've never asked) who I've looked up to is retiring. My world is changing in a small but significant way, prefiguring a choice I'll need to make sometime in the next decade.

Meanwhile, the youngest child I've parented is about to graduate from high school. My oldest child had a child of her own eleven months ago, and that baby is now on the verge of walking. The kindergartners I taught music to in 2003 are old enough now to be college juniors, and the kinders I taught in 1984 for eleven short weeks are in their late 30s. My wife got new knees of her own last winter, and we're hoping to take them out on some hikes this summer.

Outside of these local changes in my life, there are the enormous socio-political changes taking place in this nation and in the world. No, I'm not going to take a dive into the Trumpian nightmare here--I swore off such columns in my last essay--but I do have to acknowledge the world is going through a difficult labor as it gives birth to something new. This didn't just start with the 2016 election: the turmoil in Europe between natives and immigrants has been going on for some time now, the US has been wrestling with it at least since the World Trade Center came down, Washington politics went sour with the rise of Newt Gingrich in the early 1990s, nihilism overwhelmed political idealism with the Watergate scandal, the country lost any innocence it had once had with the assassinations of two Kennedys, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King...

Come to think of it, has there ever been a time when we as a nation, not to mention a planet, were able to just rest secure in a golden age, or even just a brass age, without feeling something new bubbling up from its core? Change is all around us. It's woven into the very fabric of space-time, driving all that is through a constant evolution from one state of being to another. Nothing stands still. Nothing.

And on that point, I suddenly find myself wanting to quote Scripture, something I rarely do anymore. It's one of the most-quoted passages in the New Testament, from Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, a passage often called the Love Chapter:

[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

What is love, but the willingness to embrace change in another? If we are in the life of any other person for long, we will experience that person changing, aging, evolving, leaving behind some of what made us love that person when first we met, replacing them with other qualities that we may at first despise, but ultimately must accept if we are to go on having a life together. While this is most apparent in children, especially those we know from birth, it's also evident in the partners we will spend the most time with, adjusting together to the indignities aging works on the human body. The changes happen so gradually that sometimes we have no idea about them until we look at a photograph from the early days of the relationship, and marvel at how young we once were.

This may be the most midlife of meditations I've recorded in this space: nothing holds still. Everything changes. There is no resisting that change, however unwelcome it may be. If it is someone we love, the best we can do is to embrace it, going on loving the child whose politics no longer agree with our own, or who has decided to come out as gay or transgender; to find a new way of relating to the retiring colleague or mentor; to learn to appreciate a body that can no longer run marathons or climb mountains, but can enjoy a walk in the park on an early spring day.

Change is the only constant. Accepting that, no, much more than that, affirming and rejoicing in it, is what love is all about.


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