When seven year-old Raymond came to school each morning, he had to walk only a few blocks. He came by way of three alleys and a set of stairs. Not too far maybe, but farther than forever on some days. I once asked him, do you ever get scared coming to school by yourself. He flipped back his brown hair and spat “What the heck! Come on.”
Not scared, Raymond? Ever? Fair enough, I said.
He made his way up hill this morning and from my window, I could see him reaching the gate. I could also hear him singing a loud, out of key tune sincere as a spit-shined shoe.
Then it came to me that today was Tuesday, the day Mr. Tee comes to Raymond’s classroom. He brings guitar, kind eyes, and a gentle voice that infuses peace into everything he touches. I see him as a kind of bridge – one who uses music to carry kids from this world to the next and back. Raucous Room 103, for example, became home to harmony when Tee was there. However he did it, I felt grateful.
Today, I said to myself, I’m going to sit in a while and sing along with the kids. So, I wrapped up a couple of desktop details, grabbed my keys, and headed downstairs. The school would be fine without the principal for a few minutes! Just a little break to sit and take in some of the magic. And from the moment I stepped in, I knew that Tee would not disappoint:
“If I play a note here” he plucked air with thumb and forefinger of left hand “and then I play a second note there” he plucked the air again, now with right hand, “what do you think fills in all that space between those two notes?”
“Just air! There’s nothing there!” Raymond shouted first.
“Just air Raymond? You sure?” Tee picked up his guitar, rested it on his knee, and began to pluck notes as he continued his story. “Close your eyes. Let your ears hear everything. What I play, and even what I don’t. Can you hear everything? Even what you thought was no sound at all?”
Raymond’s eyes widened as Tee went on:
“When you pluck a note, you set it free. No matter how far it travels, it will find its way home. When a note splits in half, quarters or eighths, it’s still part of the same family. One day, every single quarter and half will find its way to the great whole in the sky.” Tee stood up for a moment, grinning, as he rumbled through six chords, three times, just to prove his point.
Kids bowed and bent like blades of grass as they followed his song. No matter how far his strumming roamed, he plucked back to where it all began.
Children sang out and I joined in. A room full of hearts that didn’t care what the words meant. I got to watch Raymond riding songs the way a sharp rides a flat, sweeping up, hanging on, sliding back home by way of the bridge. He vanished into a far bigger song that came alive in that classroom. In the music, he let himself go. In letting himself go, he let himself be.
Song ended, and I headed out with thanks to one and all! When had I ever heard music better than that?