“Hooray!” shouted Yertle. “I’m the king of the trees!
I’m king of the birds! And I’m king of the bees!
I’m king of the butterflies! King of the air!
Ah, me! What a throne! What a wonderful chair!
I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!”
I pause before turning the page of Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle, giving the girls huddled around me in the school cafeteria time to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Nine turtles, by order of their tyrannical King Yertle, have been stacked up to form his far-reaching throne.
“No!” squeals one of my students, pointing at the illustration, with its stern top turtle and long-suffering subjects. “On the bottom, it isn’t fair! So sad!”
Around us, snatches of refrains from Seussical, the Musical fill the cafeteria, where we’ve gathered after tearing down our sets for a cast party. After countless after-school and weekend rehearsals, hours of personal practice and three sold-out performances, tonight we’re finished with the musical. From the evidence around me, no one really wants to be done. Though the cast has changed back into street clothes, many of them still wear their “Who” makeup and crazy “Who” hair, and every few minutes someone bursts into a favorite part of a favorite song. They are happy and triumphant, these performers, confident of a job well done.
For me, this musical was at first an overwhelming experience. I was the only violist, an instrument for which I hadn’t read music in eight or nine years, playing music that even on a violin would have challenged me. There were several rehearsals at which I was alarmingly humbled, stretched far out of the areas in which I feel safely knowledgeable. And yet, as I remembered how to read the notes, I remembered also how much this part of my life once meant to me. I remembered the sense of belonging and ownership I felt in high school orchestra, the way that I could catch both the conductor’s motions and the first violins’ bowing out of the corner of my eye, trying to stay aligned to both. I remembered that what I really loved, all those years was this sense of alert community, the mysterious way in which the orchestra became greater than its individual instruments.
Twenty years of playing music recently passed for me–something I recalled one day during a Seussical rehearsal–and I’ve been reflecting on what that means. Though I’ve not played continuously all that time, music has continued to follow me. Playing in an orchestra this year wasn’t something that I expected, but the abilities that I fostered as a child and adolescent made it possible to serve in this way, at the same time sharing this rich connection with the students, a bond built on a shared effort.
One of my professors at Seattle Pacific University was fond of reminding us that life works in spirals, as we’re always returning to places, people and learning that we’ve seen before, looking at them with new eyes, from new perspectives. This weekend reminds me how true this is. God has used so many pieces of my past–a global childhood, a variety of educational experiences, friends who attended BFA–to prepare me to serve here. What continues to amaze me are the more obscure parts–the youth work and track team, the rock climbing and viola playing–that He continues to retrieve, reminding me of the intricacy of His plans and the importance of staying flexible.
At rest in the present and thankful for the past, I turn the page with my current students to “The Big Brag.”
“This is the best one!” I hand one of them the book and recite the first few pages, to their amusement and perplexity.
“Why do you know that?” laughs Make-Up artist.
“My family used to do it as a skit,” I reply with a shrug. “When I was a kid.”
“Your family sounds awesome,” Mayzie the Bird says.
“Oh, they are.”
And I’m content and blessed, sitting at a table with half a dozen Korean and French Junior girls, sharing my favorite stories from childhood.