Sunday night I went over to the Pinhook, one of local bars, for the Fifth Birthday Celebration for Bountiful Backyards, our friends who helped create our little urban foodscape at our house. They do awesome work and I was happy to go and celebrate with them. The other reason for the evening is they are working to raise money to buy land to create a real urban farm in East Durham, one of our poorer neighborhoods. You can read about their Kickstarter campaign here (and chip in, too, if you like).
Besides food and drink and information, the evening was full of music. Midtown Dickens, one of our cool local bands, played along with Phil Cook and his Feat, as Phil calls himself when he is playing solo rather than with his great band, Megafaun. Phil is one of the most talented and genuine people I have met here in Durham, with a smile as wide as his heart is open to those around him — and he’s a hell of a musician. All those things together make him someone I enjoy getting to be around when I have the chance.
Sunday night I had the good fortune of walking up on a conversation between Phil and one of the guys in Midtown Dickens as they were talking about the band’s new album, which is due out in February. Phil had had a chance to hear the mixes and was quite impressed. He gave wonderful and specific feedback about how the record not only sounded but also how it showed the band’s progression. Then he said, “One of my favorite things in life is when you get to see your friends grow.”
And I thought, “Now that’s a perspective worth remembering.”
I spent a good part of the last couple of days writing up interim reports on my students to send home to parents the end of the week. These reports, different from the semester grades, have a narrative component where we have a chance to write a short paragraph about what we see happening in the lives of our students. For whatever reason, the inclination in writing such things always seems to tilt towards where the kids are falling short. Some of that is necessary. After Phil’s comment, I found myself working to find ways to invite the parents to see how their son or daughter was growing and learning. In some cases, that was quite a challenge. I do well when I can approach of my classes much the same way I go out into our bountiful backyard to see what is growing and blossoming, and what needs some extra care.
Since Sunday night, as I have ruminated on Phil’s words, I have given thanks for friends over the years who have expected, and continue to expect, me to grow. As the years go by, it is perhaps harder to find those friends and to be one of them as well. When we were kids, we marked our growth on the door frame. When we were students, we counted out life in semesters and degrees. When life moves on beyond semesters and course work it doesn’t appear to offer as many benchmarks to measure our progress. Part of it is, perhaps, there aren’t as many. For my high schoolers, every year means a new name – sophomore, junior, senior – even as specific ages offer their own sense of accomplishment: eighteen, twenty-one. Midlife sort of lumps the years together. We make the most out of the decades, but mostly to tell each other we are getting older as though getting there was achievement enough. We too easily let it slip from our mind that we would do well to encourage each other to grow.
One of the great things about life is that we get to do things more than once. Yet, phrased another way, life can become repetitious, sometimes deadeningly so. (Did I just make up a word?) We have Communion the first Sunday of every month at our church, for instance. What determines whether our ritual is a way to mark time or is our simply going through the motions? The answer might lie in Phil’s words. As we come to do again what we have done before, do we expect one another to have grown? Even if we repeat the same words and actions, we are not the same people we were a month, a year, a day ago. As we break bread and pray and sing together, let us take time to notice and appreciate how one another has grown.
As we draw closer to Bethlehem, let us take stock not of how we have aged, but how we have grown, even as we come expecting Jesus to do more than be the baby in the manger.