Yesterday's service at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation was about hope. The minister was away, and instead of a regular sermon, three of us gave our own personal reflections about hope. This is what I said:
I am poor. I’m better off than some. I have a roof over my head, and as you watch my weight go up and down, I obviously have enough to eat. But still, I’m poor. You’ve probably heard or read about people who are one accident or illness away from disaster. I’m one of those people. Some months I’ve had only a couple dollars left after paying rent and bills. I recently put off treating an abscess tooth because I couldn’t afford the dentist. It was a matter of getting treatment or paying my rent. I often feel embarrassed by not being able to afford certain things, and my money situation has not helped my dating life.
My finances weren’t always a mess. In the ’90s, I was at the start of a promising career as a professional trombone player. I was often hired to play in pick-up groups for touring acts like George Burns, Rosemary Clooney, and The Manhattan Transfer. I played with the Ohio Light Opera for three seasons before I won an audition to play in an Air Force band, where I quickly rose to the top of the trombone section and performed as a soloist. I was all set. I was going to put in my 20 years of service, draw a military pension, and then settle down with a college teaching job. That was the plan, anyway. This all came to a crash when I developed a muscle tear in my upper lip due to overuse. What was once effortless was now painful, both physically and emotionally. Every time I tried to play, it felt like someone was poking me with a needle on the inside of my lip. I endured the final two years of my enlistment and then received an honorable discharge.
After leaving the Air Force, I allowed myself a year to heal. I tried playing trombone again, but I still couldn’t play. Four times, I tried to get my trombone chops back, but I failed each time before I came to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to play the trombone again.
To say I was depressed is an understatement. I found solace in food, gained 140 pounds over the course of a few years, and lived a solitary life. Somewhere in the middle of that, I was married, but then was unexpectedly divorced after three years. To this day, I have never received a solid answer for why Katherine left. Maybe she had a good reason, but she never told me. So…not a happy camper.
In spite of all this, I feel hopeful. What has given me hope is music. The guitar brought it all back.
Back in 2003, when we were still married, Katherine gave me a guitar for Christmas. Within a week, even though I could barely play the thing, I was already planning my second musical career. As a trombone player, I went from stone cold beginner at age 11 to passing a college entry audition at age 17. I figured that I could do something similar with the guitar, so I set myself a goal of being able to play professional guitar gigs after six years of practice. With my professional background and training, that process was accelerated quite a bit, and I began playing gigs after 3 years…not exactly setting the world on fire, but doing a decent job.
As I began performing more often, other opportunities began to appear. I realized that I was at least as good a singer as the people I was backing up, so I started singing. Now, I find myself teamed up with an amazing singer who shares similar musical goals. I’ve started teaching guitar lessons. More gigs are coming my way, and I have a quarter time job at this crazy church that allows a secular humanist to run their music program! So, while I’m still poor, things are looking up, and I’m very hopeful about the future.
Aside from the upward career momentum, music itself gives me hope on many different levels. I am absolutely driven by music. I can’t imagine what I would do without it. I’m involved in some aspect of music all day, every day…practicing alone, rehearsing with others, arranging music, typesetting music, and performing. I love the art of it, and I love the challenge of it. I love the fact that I will never have a perfect performance, no matter how good I become. There’s always going to be something to improve, and I plan to continue working on my craft the rest of my days. I’d like to leave this world with a guitar in my hands, trying to learn just one more lick.
Music also gives me hope by helping me connect with others. To put it mildly, I am socially awkward. There’s just something in my makeup that makes it difficult for me to connect with people. I feel uncomfortable making light conversation, and even though I’m a staff member, after a service, I’m usually out the door and gone before most of the congregation. I don’t have any problem standing in front of a crowd, but I’m extremely uncomfortable being in it. If you look up the word “introvert” on Wikipedia…that’s my picture. But music has helped me some wonderful people. I’m not exactly a social butterfly yet, but at least it gets me out of the house.
Now, I started off by telling you that I’m poor. But I don’t usually feel poor, because my days are filled with something that I love. I have discovered my purpose in life, and I’m following the dream. And because things are beginning to come into place, I feel hopeful about my future as a professional musician and life in general.
So…Are you hopeful…Or is something missing? If there is a hole in your life, I won’t presume to tell you how to fill it, but it couldn’t hurt to search – to find out what it is that fulfills you. I’m not saying you need to follow my path and go as far as making a career of it, but whatever it is, just do it. There is never going to be a perfect time to start. If you wait for just the right time to begin, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life, so you might as well start now.
I hope that you’ll think about what fulfills you, and that you’ll follow your path. I hope that someday you’ll feel as rich as I do.