Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ode to a Spork


Three weeks ago, while sitting in a fast-food restaurant eating my cole slaw with a spork, I was surprised to find myself inspired by the utensil.  I studied it from all directions.  I played around with it to see what I could make it do.  Then I scribbled this poem on my napkin.  I battled myself for two weeks about whether to put this on my blog.  For better or worse, here ‘tis.

 

Ode to a Spork

Consider, my friend, the versatile spork

Found from southern California to northern New York.

In soup, a spoon, in salad a fork.

Held upside down, it resembles a stork.

You may call its inventor a nerd or a dork,

But it made him a bazillion dollars.

Stabillity in Clarinet Sound


Stability in Clarinet Sound

The five dimensions of clarinet sound are stability, clarity, focus, color, and depth. Today we consider stability. 

Think of a one-quart water balloon as your sound.  Lovely thing.  Hold the water balloon in your hand.  Feel how satisfying it feels.  Stability is one of the characteristics that makes it beautiful.

Stability in clarinet sound is a measure of how consistent our sound is. Consistency.  Reliability.  Dependability.  We want all our water balloons to look and feel alike.  Stability and flexibility are opposing forces that create a delicious dialectical tension.  But we must achieve stability first.  We leave the flexibility to the veteran jazz musicians. They have mastered creating stable water balloons, so they have earned the right to create flexible ones that suit their purposes.

Stability manifests in four ways:

1.    Stability of tone shape

2.    Stability of tone color

3.    Stability of tone response

4.    Stability of pitch 

Stability of Tone Shape: Imagine the tone coming out of the bell of your horn as an acute angle.  As it moves forward toward the audience, the sides continue on from the angle of origin.  If you produced an angle of 15 degrees, you have a narrow tone shape.  If you produced an angle of 45 degrees, you have a wide tone shape.  Hold your pointer finger and your middle finger together.  Then spread them out to make an acute angle of 45, then 30, then 15 degrees to imagine your tone shape.  

We want to produce the same size angle every time.  A 30 degree angle is good for our purposes.  Think of a triangular balloon blowing out of the end of your horn.  We want all the balloons to be the same angle, so at ten feet away, we will have the same-sized base of the triangle.  We don’t want to produce a balloon with a 15 degree angle, and then a 41, and then an 18, and then a 23.  That would be ugly.  A cascade of 30 degree angle balloons would be beautiful.

Stability of Tone Color:  Also called timbre (tam-ber), tone color is what makes two instruments playing the same pitch at the same volume sound different.  Tone color is what makes a clarinet sound like a clarinet.  A clarinet and an oboe are distinguishable because of their different tone colors. A clarinet tone color should be clear, warm, and woody.  An oboe tone color should be nasal, pointy, and woody.  Either can be dark or bright, delicate or forceful. Or a whole dictionary of opposite, yet acceptable, characteristics.

Tone color is the result of the harmonics, the multiple sound waves that the instrument produces.  Think of the harmonics as thin strips of balloon rubber stacked upon each other, each strip cut into more pieces than the one above it.  The top rubber strip is whole; the second, cut in half; the third cut into thirds; the fourth cut into fourths, etc.  They work together to create the harmonics of the sound we hear by vibrating at different speeds as we blow.  The whole rubber strip, the slowest sound wave, is the fundamental tone, and may be called something like warm.  The shortest strip vibrates the fastest. The more short waves in the harmonics we hear, the brighter the sound.  We want to master the art of making our tone color consistent so that the fundamental wave is always the same speed. The harmonic waves will follow its lead.

Stability of Tone Response refers to the relationship between the amount of energy we put into the sound and the way the sound comes out of the instrument. Stable tone response means that if I blow a quart of air into the balloon, the balloon fills with a quart of air.  I don’t have good tone response if I blow a quart of air, yet only a pint gets into the balloon.  Effort in, tone out.  Blow a tightly controlled stream of air with good breath support, get a lovely pianissimo.  Blow a large stream of air with good breath support, get a resounding forte.  Pianissimo is harder.

Stability of Pitch: Stability of pitch can mean that we hold a sustained note steady without letting it flatten or sharpen.  The frequency of the sound is the same from the moment we start playing the note until we release it.  Stability of pitch can also mean that our G in the chalumeau register, throat register, clarion register, and (Heaven forbid!) altissimo register all sound like the same note save for the octave.  Our tendency is to play some of those G’s sharp, some flat, and some on pitch.   We want to produce balloons that are consistent, not some flat, some overfilled, and some exactly the right size.

We want to have stability to make our beautiful water balloon sound: stability of tone shape, color, and response, and stability of pitch.  Consistency.  Reliability.  Dependability.   Good characteristics in a friend.  Good characteristics in a woodwind sound.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

To be in Band: A Second Chance


In eighth grade, I realized how much my two best girlfriends wished they were in band like me.  Band was the center of my world, and my heart ached that they had nothing in their lives like I had in mine.

Frankie was musically illiterate.  Shelly wasn’t.  She was a good pianist.  But we didn’t have a piano in band.

I occasionally brought Frankie and Shelly to the band hall after school when no sectionals were scheduled.  My band director, Mr. Phillip Wilson, welcomed everybody into our band family.

When junior high graduation loomed, Mr. Wilson said, “Bring Frankie and Shelly to see me after school on Friday.”  He would not tell me why.

Frankie and Shelly were nervous that Mr. Wilson had summoned them.  So was I.  When the three of us arrived, he offered them a chair. They sat. He asked them if they would like to be in high school band.  He explained that they could both become percussionists: it wasn’t too late.  He told Shelly that her piano background would allow her to play glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, and chimes.  He told Frankie that she could learn to play drums, cymbals, triangle, woodblock, maracas.  They were stunned.  So was I.  My Mr. Wilson could make this happen.  My friends would be part of the high school band. 

We all showed up together the first day of marching band practice.  The high school band director never learned that this was the first day of band for them. They worked hard, and each learned to make important contributions to the band. 

But the crowning glory was when our band played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.  We needed a harpist.  And who could quickly learn to play harp?  Only one person in the band: Shelly.  And she played like the angels in heaven.

So ever since I was in eighth grade, I’ve had a heart for kids who wanted to be in band but never had the opportunity.  Maybe they lived on farms and had to milk the cows early and late.  Or they couldn’t afford an instrument.  Or their families thought band was only for sissies.  And they didn’t have a Mr. Wilson to give them an entry point into band in tenth grade. 

I saw one of those kids a few months ago.  At 3:00 in the afternoon, we went to The Shack in Jessieville for the world’s best hamburger. School let out while we were there.  Three children came in, probably seventh graders.  They sat at the counter.  The kids on either end had a musical instrument case and a cell phone.  They ordered sodas and candy.  The child in the middle had no instrument case and no cell phone.  He asked only for a glass of water. 

I thought, “That’s a child whose friends are in band, but he can’t be.  I wish I could help.  I wish Mr. Wilson could tell me what to do.”

I haven’t seen those children again, but several months later, God had something new in store for me. 

The president of our local New Horizons Band (New Horizons International Music Association) asked me to teach woodwind sectionals.  New Horizons is an international organization for senior citizens who played in a school band and want to play again.  Or for senior citizens who always wanted to learn to play an instrument but never had the opportunity; they missed the entry portal in sixth or seventh grade.  They couldn’t afford an instrument.  Or they had to work on the farm.  Or their families thought band was for sissies.  And they didn’t have a Mr. Wilson to give them a second chance at an entry portal in high school.

Me? Teach woodwind sectionals? I was stunned.  I am a good, solid player.  I know a lot about the theory of woodwinds because I’m a scholar by nature.  And I am a teacher by trade… 36 years by trade.  But I’m not a music teacher, and I am CERTAINLY not a virtuoso. 

I said I would think about it.

The next week, a dozen people came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you’re going to be our new woodwind teacher!” 

I said, “Uhhhhhmmmm…”

So that’s how it happened.  I started today teaching God’s grey-haired children who never got to be in band.  The little girls who sat at school assemblies enraptured by the band that they could not be part of.  The little boys who watched the band march by and wanted to touch the bright, shiny trumpets singing the fanfares.  The children who cried in their beds because band itself had passed them by. Because they didn’t have a Mr. Wilson to help them.

So I suppose, through the voice of our New Horizons president, I heard a voice calling in the night. I asked, “Is it I, Lord?”

Apparently, this time, it is.

 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Five Dimensions of Woodwind Sound


The Five Dimensions of Woodwind Sound

If we don’t know where we are trying to go, we don’t know how to get there, and we don’t even know when we’ve arrived.  I’ve lived a lot of my life like that.

For years, I didn’t know what a good clarinet sound was.   Good Clarinet Sound was my desired destination.  I knew people and clarinets and reeds that I thought had a good sound, and people and clarinets and reeds that I thought had a bad sound, but I couldn’t tell you the difference between the two.  The first I liked; the second I did not.  And I couldn’t tell you why.  Which made me feel stupid. 

I knew that some days, my sound made me happier than it did on other days, but I had no idea what I was doing one day and not doing the next to make that beautiful sound I wanted to make.  Which made me mad.

Over the years, I have kept up with new information about clarinets on the internet.  Some of the information I share in this post is widely repeated throughout other sites.  Other information has stayed in my head, but I have no idea where I read it on the internet.  I am responsible for none of the technical information here.  I am only putting it together on posts on this blog for the convenience of my woodwind friends in New Horizons Band.  Neither they nor I are young, and some of us don’t have time to search all over the internet to find out what we want to know about making a beautiful sound with our woodwinds.  Most of us are over sixty.  Some are over eighty.  Which gives me a sense of urgency.

In this post, I address the five dimensions of woodwind sound.  Because I limit my posts to 800 words, I will address the dimensions in separate posts.  This post identifies the dimensions and provides ways to remember them.

The five dimensions of woodwind sound are

·        Clarity

·        Focus

·        Depth

·        Stability

·        Color

I offer three mnemonic devices to remember the five dimension of good woodwind sound: a visualization exercise, a story, and a song.

The Visualization Exercise

Close your eyes.  We are going to hunt for a beautiful, rare black pearl.  Slip on your diving gear. 

First, we must be sure that the water is still.  We won’t go into the sea if the waves are high.  We want still, stable water.  Stable water represents stability in the woodwind’s sound.

We drop over the side of the ship and go down, down to the depths of the ocean floor where the oysters live.  Water depth represents depth of sound.

If the water is murky, we cannot see the oysters.  Fortunately, the water is clear.  The clear water represents clarity of sound.

The ocean floor is dark, so we use our small, high-beam, highly-focused light.  The highly-focused light shows us one oyster at a time.  The highly-focused light represents focus of sound.

The oysters stand open before us.  We want only one pearl: a black pearl.  Straight ahead we see exactly the right color:  a rich, rare, black pearl.  The color of the pearl represents the color of our sound.

 

The Story

A Woodwind Fairy Tale

The beautiful French Queen Clarinet  and the handsome German King Saxophone  ruled the marvelous, magical, musical  Land of Band.

Queen Clarinet and King Sax wore beautiful colors: she, a cape of grenadilla black draped with silver keys, and he a beautiful silvery-brass robe studded with pearl-white keys.

 Queen Clarinet and King Sax had stability, consistently the same size and shape, unlike the unstable Jester Trombone, who would change his size from short to long, long to short in the blink of an eye!  A real slippery fellow, he!

Queen Clarinet and King Sax were focused.  They sang a focused song, unlike the Tympani Sisters, whose sound made wave after wave like a stone dropped in the water.  Very unfocused, the Tympani Sisters. 

Queen Clarinet and King Sax spoke with clarity so everyone could understand what they were saying, unlike that rude Knave Trumpet, who could speak with clarity, but often stuck a mute in his mouth, and who on earth could tell what he was saying then? 

And Queen Clarinet and King Sax had depth of character, unlike the shallow Fairy Triangle, who often acted like an alarm clock gone berserk!

Ergo, to the chagrin of the brasses and the percussion, Queen Clarinet and King Saxophone ruled the beautiful Land of Band.

 

 

The Song

To the Tune of Frere Jacques (Are You Sleeping, Brother John)
 
We have stability,

Clarity and focus,

Color and depth,
Color and depth.

We have stability,

Clarity and focus
Color and depth,
Color and depth.


May the words of this post help you bring beauty into the world through the voice of your woodwind.



 

 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Callie: My Big, Black, Mixed-Breed Shelter Dog


Callie is my big black dog.  My big, black, mixed-breed, shelter dog. 


 

Six years ago, my grad students and I started the first-of-its-kind comprehensive support program for fully-academically-qualified college students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). The university gave us a house on campus and scholarship money for the peer mentors who would work with our students with ASDs.

When we accepted our first student, her mom told me, “She needs a dog.  She can’t go to sleep at night unless she spends time grooming her dog first.”

“Okay,” I said.  I knew I’d never get permission to have a dog living on campus, so I forged ahead.  Easier to get forgiveness than ask permission.

I called The Clay County Animal Shelter in Henrietta, Texas.  I told Annie Boddy McClintock, “I need a big black dog to live in a house on campus with four college students who have ASDs and their three nondisabled peer mentors.  It’s now March 15.  I need the dog August 15.  Pick me out the right dog for the job.”  I hung up.

Annie got to work. 

I called her August 14.  Said, “It’s time.”

She said, “Come to the shelter tomorrow.  My staff and I’ve been studying the dogs all summer.  We have five big black dogs for you to choose from.  One has risen to the top of all of our lists, but we want you to make the final choice.”  I asked which dog had risen to the top of their lists. 

“I’m not going to tell you,” she said. 

My husband, Don, went to the shelter with me the next day.  We sat down in the dirt, and the staff gathered to watch.  I could tell they were nervous.  One staff member brought us the first big black dog.  He sniffed us in greeting and then ran off to dig a hole.  “Nope,” I said.  “I’m gonna be in enough trouble for bringing a dog to live on campus.  Can’t have a hole-digging dog.”

Second dog sniffed us in greeting and then hunched up and pooped right in front of us.  “Bad manners,” I said.  “We need a dog who will housetrain immediately.  This does not portend well for that.”

I don’t remember what the third dog did, but I eliminated it.

The fourth dog sniffed us a greeting and then ran off to talk to other dogs.  “Nope,” I said.  “Our dog has to be more interested in people than other dogs.”  Four down, one to go.

The fifth dog was Callie.  Six months earlier, three cowboys had found her trotting along a dusty road, dirty, emaciated, and dehydrated.  And VERY pregnant.  They picked her up and brought her to the shelter where she delivered four babies three days later.  The shelter staff named her Calamity Jane in honor of the cowboys.  They called her Callie for short.

When the handler turned Callie loose for us, she ran right up to us, sniffed at us, gave us a nice lick… and then turned her back to me, sat down, and scootched up to me to push her back full-length up against my side.  She sat quietly, attached to my side like a second skin.  I looked up at the assembled staff.  Their faces lit up like dawn on the Texas desert.

“This is the dog,” I said.  The staff cheered.

Callie moved into the campus house. The students continued calling her Callie but changed her formal name to Calliope, the Greek muse of music.  They didn’t think Calamity Jane fit such an elegant dog.

We enrolled her in obedience class.  She finished top of her class.  Then we enrolled her in intermediate obedience.  Top of her class again.  Big, black, mixed-breed, shelter dog.  Best in class at sitting, staying, shaking hands, downing, coming, releasing, and perhaps most important, “leaving-it” alone, whether a dead bird, a kid on a bike, or another dog.

Callie became famous.  The university newspaper published a front-page article on her.  Ditto our university magazine.  I got in trouble for bringing her on campus, but I expected that.  Armed with the research about the effects of dogs on students who have ASDs, I was able to convince the housing administrator to let her stay. Bad PR and all that, you know.

Callie read our students with ASDs like an open book.  When someone began to escalate ("melt down" for people who use that term), she sensed it, trotted over, sat down, and offered them her paw to shake.  Alternatively, she turned her back to them, scootched up against them, and sat on their feet.  Either way, she derailed the escalation and restored the peace.

The boys in residence slept in the bedroom upstairs, the girls downstairs; Callie slept with the girls.  The only time she aggressed was one Saturday morning.  The father of one of our girls had come to take her home for the weekend.  He knocked and knocked on the front door, but nobody answered.  He tried the knob, and it was unlocked.  He tiptoed down the hall and opened the door to the girls’ room.  Callie bolted upright, roared like a lion, and sprung at the intruder.  This man was NOT going to touch HER girls! Scared the poor dad to death, but reassured us all that she was going to take care of her family.

Three years later, when Callie was six, the university closed our program.  No fault of Callie’s.  She missed her college students, but she came to live with Don and me, so now she takes care of us.  She’s an old lady, seventy in dog years, but she still has the shiny, sleek coat of a young dog.  Callie, my big, black, mixed-breed shelter dog who went from being Calamity Jane to Calliope, the Greek muse of music.  First in her obedience class.  Autism specialist.  Changer of lives.

Thank you, God, for Callie.  Thank you for the gift of big, black, mixed-breed, shelter dogs.  Alleulia and Amen.

.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Should We Dye Shelter Dogs Pink?


Sometimes I sit outside with my dog and give little cups of lemonade to people who pass by.  A lot of people pass by.  Most of them are golfers because to get from #4 to #5, you have to cross the street directly in front of my house.  You cannot get by me if I don’t want you to.  Others are walking their dogs or simply walking themselves.  The former carry poop bags.  The latter don’t.

One of the things I have learned from this little act of kindness is the power of pink.  The first time I gave away lemonade, I had a gallon of yellow and a gallon of pink.  I gave away 38 little cups in three hours before the dog said, "Hey!  I’m melting!  Take me in the house!”  I accommodated the dog.

In giving away those 38 cups, I learned something interesting.  Four people said they couldn’t have sugar, so I learned to have water, too.  The other 34 had lemonade.  Of those 34, 32 wanted the pink lemonade.  Most of the golfers were men, but I didn’t think to count people by sex.  I didn’t realize I was going to learn anything.  I only counted the lemonade by color because the first foursome all took pink.  So did the second.  So I thought to myself, “Hmmmm.  Something interesting is happening here.  Let’s count pinks vs. yellows.” 

I discovered that great big men would reach over the row of yellow lemonade to get the pink.  Over and over, I heard big bearded men say, “I would love some pink lemonade!”  Ditto not-so-big clean-shaven men.  Men with Army tattoos on their leathery arms.  Men with US Marine caps on their bald heads.  Men would put their beer in the golf-cart cup holders to take a cup of lemonade.  And they would reach over the yellow to get the pink.

Every person who accepted my small gift of lemonade grinned from ear to ear.  I have thought considerably about that, and about the fact that all these men wanted pink lemonade.

I have come to the conclusion people grinned because they are delighted by small unexpected acts of kindness.  Ergo, we could all make the world a better place if we occasionally gave a metaphorical glass of pink lemonade to a stranger.

Second, I have come to wonder why men prefer pink lemonade to yellow.  My hypotheses have yet to be tested, but they are:

H1: When people in my generation were children, we occasionally were given lemonade, but only on the rarest of occasions were we given pink lemonade.  Therefore, pink lemonade triggers the dopamine receptors in our brains and makes us giddy in anticipation. 

 

H2:  Inside every man lives a little girl.  I know that the pink-girl/blue-boy thing didn’t start in the US until WWII.  In fact, in 1927, Time magazine noted that American stores considered pink as the boy-color and blue as the girl-color.  But if you ask most people in my generation what color signifies little girls, they will say pink. I know that a little girl lives inside most women; some of my fiercest women friends and I have confessed this to each other.  But maybe a little girl lives inside of every man, too.  And she likes pink.

 

But in addition to developing my hypotheses, I learned something about marketing.  A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but only if the rose is pink.  You want to market something? Make it pink.

 

I am intensely interested in marketing adoptable dogs to people who are good, and kind, and worthy of a dog.  And who have the resources to take proper care of one.

 

Some dogs do get adopted: 3-4 million shelter dogs and cats are adopted every year.  But another 2.7 million adoptable animals are killed in shelters every year.  More black dogs are killed every year than any other color.  People will pass right by ten black dogs to adopt a white, brown, grey, or some other color dog. 

 

Worse yet, people will drive by the shelter altogether to buy a dog from a pet store, a dog whose purchase promotes the horror of puppy mills.

 

The facts ain’t pretty.  So I am trying to figure out how I can get people to adopt instead of buy, and to adopt black dogs as willingly as dogs of other colors.

 

I don’t think giving people rose colored glasses would work.  Dying black shelter dogs pink- or dying any color of shelter dog pink, for that matter- doesn’t seem to be the answer either.  I don’t know what is.  If you can help me figure this out, I’ll buy you a year’s worth of pink lemonade.

 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

DiMaggio, The Dog at Home Plate


His name is DiMaggio.  I don’t know who named him, but all the locals know who he is.  He’s big, and dark, and of uncertain parentage.  I wonder if he’s lonely.

He lives next to the baseball diamond, north of home plate.  Actually, he also lives behind the restaurant called Home Plate.  He lurks back in the forest.  Sometimes I glimpse him peeking out. Sometimes I see him standing boldly in front of the trees. But the one time I tried to approach him, he melted back into the woods and never reappeared.  I watched for him throughout my salad, entrĂ©e, dessert course, and one last cup of coffee. But he didn’t show himself again.

Arkansas has lots of homeless dogs.  Last week, a dog appeared out of nowhere in front of my car and then slid into the tall grass by the highway, but not before I saw her teats, hanging low, but not plump with milk.  I hoped she had found something to eat and drink.  I wondered how many of her babies would live.  And what would become of them if they did.  Wish I could have brought them all home.  But I couldn’t.

But back to DiMaggio. 

He doesn’t have a family, and I wonder if he’s lonely.  But he does have a house.  Some good Samaritan built him a doghouse.  Nice doghouse.  Man just did what he could do to help a homeless dog.

And DiMaggio has enough to eat.  Local folks bring him food, and every night, the manager of Home Plate takes him a feast: scraps of steak, liver, catfish fillets.  Some black-eyed peas and hush puppies.  Maybe a taste of apple pie. Not the healthiest of diets for a dog, but delicious fare nonetheless, and enough to fill his belly. 

Good people live here.  Too many homeless dogs to care for, but good people doing what they can for this one homeless dog.

Wish I could bring him home.  Wish I could bring them all home.  But I can’t.  For every human baby born in America, 6.3 puppies are born: 4 million human babies, 25 ½ million dog babies a year. 

I don’t know if we’ll ever become a “spay and neuter nation” and stop the madness.  I don’t know what’s going to become of all the dear, homeless dogs.

But for now, for today, I will be thankful for the good people who built a doghouse and feed one homeless dog every day.  DiMaggio.  The dog who lives north of the baseball diamond behind Home Plate cafĂ©.  DiMaggio.  May the Lord bless you and keep you.  And the people who do the best they can to care for you every day.  

 

 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

But Everyone Can Do Something


Twenty years ago, the poster on my office door showed a weimaraner balancing a ball on his nose.  The caption said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

I loved that poster. 

It dovetailed nicely with one of the quotes I hammered home to my special ed majors: If not I, who?  If not now, when?  My majors listened; they became servants of people with disabilities. One year, to show me they listened, they wore tee-shirts with that slogan all over campus.

But I’m retired now.  When I see an unmet need, I sometimes think, “I’ve spent my time on the front lines of service.  The young people- that’s their job now.  I have the right to kick back and enjoy myself.  Play my clarinet.  Shop at the farmers’ market.  Take afternoon naps. Read.”

And I am doing those things.  Play my clarinet with the Hot Springs Concert Band.  Hit the farmers’ market once or twice a week and buy mouthwatering blackberry fried pies from two cheery ladies. Enjoy afternoon naps in my bed or on the couch.  Read everything from music history to kids’ books to trashy novels.

But God doesn’t seem to have retired me from service yet. 

Six months ago, I started volunteering two afternoons a month at a humane society thrift store.  I accepted responsibility for the book room where hardbacks sell for a buck and paperbacks for four bits.  Had to deep six half the books because they were moldy, mildewed, yellowed, food-stained, rodent-nibbled, silverfish-infested, cockroach-pooped-on, or falling apart.  Promised to secure donations of marketable books to replace the books I tossed. Did it. 

Then I agreed to serve on the marketing committee because my talents seem a good fit for that. 

Then I was asked to write grants for an entirely different animal welfare organization.  Agreed to that because it’s a good match for my skill set and experience.

But last week as I was researching my first grant proposal, the voice from one part of my brain griped, “Hey!  You’re old!  Young people should be doing this!  You need to be taking a nap!”  The voice from the other part of my brain piped up, “Hey! Don’t listen to that nonsense!  If not you, who?  If not now, when?  No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.  And you can do this.”  So I toiled on.

Then yesterday I heard a story that made that negative part of my brain plumb ashamed of itself.

I learned that an old, old man who can scarcely walk volunteers at the humane society’s shelter every week.  I asked, “What on earth can an old man who can scarcely walk do to help with a hundred homeless animals?”

What, indeed?  He sits and visits with old dogs.  A volunteer brings him one old dog at a time, and he comforts it.  He spends twenty or thirty minutes with the old dog, talking to it, stroking it, giving it hope.  Then the volunteer leads that old dog away and brings in another old dog for the elderly gentleman’s tender care.

Some of the old dogs were dumped out on the highway by people who didn’t want them any more.  Some were once beloved companions, but now they live at the shelter because their humans must live in nursing homes.  Some live there because their people died without making arrangements in their wills for the care of their old canine friend.  Whatever journey led these old dogs to the humane society shelter, they are alone and lonely.

And the old man decided that he could ease their loneliness.

I wonder whether the old man is alone and lonely, too.  Perhaps he is, and the time with the dogs comforts him as well as the dogs.  Perhaps he once had a dog, but his age and circumstances no longer allow him to share his life with an animal companion.  Or perhaps he isn’t lonely.  Maybe he’s happily married and has a couple of dogs of his own at home.  Perhaps he simply has a heart for old, lonely, grieving dogs, so he take the time to come and comfort them, one dog at a time. 

Whatever his reasons, this old, old man makes time for these old, old dogs.  Perhaps he said to himself, “If I don’t make the time to comfort the old dogs in the shelter, who will?  And if I don’t do it now, when will I do it?”  Perhaps he said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.  And I can do this.”

Shame on me for questioning whether I still have a responsibility to do what I can do to ease the suffering in this world.  If not I, who?  If not now, when?  Because if one old man can comfort the old dogs at the shelter, I must do what I can do to help them.  No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.  And I can do this.