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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


The Heart of a "Head-Banger"

------ The greatest reward of my career as a music teacher has been the opportunity to foster a wide variety of relationships with an even wider variety of young men and women. I have grown to understand on various levels many different breeds of young hearts, each with its own securities and insecurities.
------ I'll never forget one such young man. He was a drummer who loved his music; heavy metal rock-and-roll. He was a self-professed head-banger through and through with his shoulder length hair and rough street-smart exterior. One of the truly uncanny things about him was his devotion to other types of music as well. He had quite obviously spent many hours working on skills far beyond those necessary for playing his rock-and-roll drum kit. It was also obvious to those who watched him closely that his enjoyment for playing all types of music was masked by a somewhat contrived cavalier bravado. His image as a thrasher would surely be damaged if anyone were allowed to see how the music moved him. He had to be careful not to let his guard down. One diversionary tactic, which served him well, was a very sarcastic, if not sardonic sense of humor, and his calculated lack of emotion toward emotional situations was often a none-to-convincing shield.
------ On one occasion I was able to witness him working outside his normal group of peers. He had been selected for the All-Region Band as principle percussionist, a position he embraced with a feverish intensity. The conductor of the group had selected a very emotional piece that attempted to depict the bombing of Dresden, Germany during World War II. From the fear of the impending raid and the prayerful consideration of the victims through the attack itself and the haunting silence of the aftermath, no emotion was spared. The piece challenged the percussion section to create much of the tension and fire of the attack, and my most intense young drummer was certainly equal to the task.
------ As the end of the allotted rehearsal time drew near, the conductor called upon the band to perform the piece in its entirety, having saved the most dramatic part, the actual firestorm, for this final moment. His intent was to do everything possible to assure that tedious, time-consuming rehearsal would not interfere with the musician’s emotional connection with the underlying theme. Judging from the mood created during this final few minutes of rehearsal. I believed he had been hugely successful. It was evident the concert would yield quite an experience.
------ The students cleared the stage, heading many different directions as they began their dinner break, the concert only hours away. By the time I made my way down to the stage area, only one performer remained. My tough-as-nails percussionist remained on the stage, reverently packing away percussion paraphernalia. As I moved toward him he looked up, and in his usual gruff, monotone voice made a simple comment. “I cried.” Accustomed to the satirical cynicism of his humor, I felt the corners of my mouth begin the formation of a smirk when I stopped myself, noticing the sincerity written all over his face. Wishing to give myself another opportunity to support his touching experience I asked him to repeat himself.” In a tone that shouted, “you heard me the first time, now why are you going to make me go through the trauma of repeating this?” he repeated his words. “ I____ cri___ed.” His description of the experience was certainly brief, and part of my initial skepticism rose from its peculiarly blunt nature. It seemed to me that most people would state that the experience was moving, or that it in some manner possessed a power that brought them to tears. When I came to recognize the reality of the event, I realized that this admission did not dance around the issue at all. It seemed to state, “the tears were all mine and I’m proud of it.”
------ I wanted to acknowledge his openness. I wanted to encourage his ability to respond emotionally to the situation. I wanted to share in the experience. But there were no words I could find that could add anything of value to the moment. We simply walked away, got in the car, and drove away to dinner. I remember the extreme honor I felt at that moment. The tears had dried, the event was over, and he could have easily made a clean escape. But instead he allowed me inside. His words didn’t tell me that he was a loving, caring soul; that I already knew. His words told me that our relationship was a safe and secure place he could trust himself to enter. The rest of the evening found us conversing in the usual frivolous manner. On the surface one would never dream anything had changed. But we both knew, through an intuition that need never be verbalized, that our relationship would never be the same.

© 2004 The Trill House