Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Go Forth and Don't Fear to Live

A lifelong friend, Carlton Dickerson, retired this past weekend. He was a choir director for a local church, and had been in that position for the last fourteen years, but he's held the position of choir director in other churches and has done numerous other things involving music, including founding a group called the Dogwood Chorus, which has put on various performances for the last thirty-five years. Really, Carlton's achievements are far too numerous for me to list. When I was a kid, my sister and I took piano lessons from him (my mother hoped for concert pianists, but ended up with dirty-loving pony girls. She loves us anyway) and that's really where it all began.

The thing is, Carlton doesn't have blood in his veins like the rest of us. He's got music. It just trails out of him wherever he goes, and leaves this lasting residue which affects anyone lucky enough to be nearby. Music is insidious that way. It gets under your skin and seeps into your muscles, settling against your bones. And anytime you encounter things that strike a chord with what you already carry inside you, it just rings that much deeper in your soul. Because of Carlton, I hear music everywhere. All his immeasurable skill couldn't force my sister and I to love the ivory like concert pianists do, but he showed us how to love the MUSIC. And he showed me to be fearless in loving that music. To dance when I felt like dancing or to sing along (albeit badly) just because acting on your love increases the joy you feel tenfold. How can you truly embrace the sensations music bring to you, if you chain them off inside yourself and don't acknowledge them?

And that was something else Carlton taught me, without even knowing he was doing it. He taught me to never hold back. Never stand on the sideline wanting to dance or sing, or do something, but not do it because someone might judge you. The world is an immense place and there will always be people in it (a huge number of people) who are too afraid to do the things they want to do. Sometimes it's a small fear (they don't want to dance in a public space, even though there's a song playing that they love) or a big fear (they dream of traveling the world, but can't bring themselves to leave home) and sometimes those fearful people are quiet, and you don't even know they're afraid.

But sometimes the people who are afraid, are loud, and they take out the frustration their own fears cause them on other people. People who aren't afraid. People who are dancing in public, or traveling the world, or else wise putting themselves out there because they're following their dreams. Maybe they call you silly, or stupid for dancing in front a of a street musician in the afternoon. Maybe they say you're being irresponsible, because you'd rather take a trip around the world than have a full time job. Maybe these people say something right then, out loud in front of everyone else who's standing around, or maybe they say things behind your back, or even try to convince other people that what you're doing or how you're living is wrong. People sometimes do a lot more damage to those around them out of fear than they do out of actual meanness. And sometimes they're truly just mean.

You can't stop people like that. But you don't have to let them stop you. They live (or don't live) the best way they can. And maybe their best way, involves hurting or ostracizing the people around them that look like good targets. But you can choose to live the best way you can. And maybe your best way of living is to live the way you want to, no matter what anyone around you thinks about that. It might not be easy, but you can do it. And doing it will make you happy, even when it's difficult.

Your friends and family, those of them who really know you and understand you, they'll try to protect you, and they might worry about you, but they'll never try to hold you back. They'll catch you when you fall, and they'll warn you when you climb back up, but they'll never stop you from climbing. They'll never tell you not to try, and they'll never tell you that you're wrong for trying.

Yes, I learned this in part from my parents, but I learned it from Carlton too. I learned it by watching him create, face adversity, and move on to create again. I've watched him choose to embrace the wonderful things in life, and seen him take joy from spreading it to others. Nothing seems to give him as much happiness as the ability to create happiness. Those are lessens he never meant to teach me, but he taught them just the same. And while my questionable piano skills have faded into history, Carlton taught me much more important things that are as clear in my mind now as they were when I first came to understand them.

Here's to many more years teaching people without meaning to, Carlton! And to many more years spent exploring the world, laughing, eating good food, surprising friends with convertible rides and spreading music, the universal language of emotions and connection.

I'll leave you with a link to a video of Carlton conducting the Hallelujah Chorus. This was a surprise mini-concert put on during his last Sunday service before his retirement by just a small number of the people who have performed under Carlton's guidance over the years. It was organized by his longtime friend Cyndy Kelly. I should note that there were only two rehearsals before the performance, and that almost no one made made both rehearsals. So, essentially, they've never practiced together until this moment. I dare you not to be moved by the performance, and the utter joy with which Carlton conducts.

Hallelujah Chorus

*Anyone interesting in knowing what my mom looks like, that's her in the front row with the shoulder-length black hair. And that's Cyndy in the black and white top, who's responsible for putting all of this on.

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