For Newtown

I know that life is working for me…when things aren’t. That’s the test, how I absorb and recover from setbacks. Especially the ones that might be deemed self-created. Take the Menlo Park chorus. I never practice enough, do I? Each concert arrives like a surprise. The rehearsal period stretches over three months, but I procrastinate, have a little go at this song, dabble at that song…all of this accomplished by computer, where the chorus website presents a sort of follow-the-bouncing-ball version of each score…of which I cannot read a note. Well, not reliably. All of which I regret, in fact, bemoan with the start of every performance. Of which we have two per year. I’m not counting the performance in a hospital ward or two. Anyway, we go public a couple of times per year. One of which was last night.

I was in on some of the informal planning for our civic theater, and particularly recall engaging a renowned acoustical engineer. Who had, for example, done the sound design for the São Paulo concert hall. In any case, our theater is acoustically splendid. And because the Menlo Park Chorus is used to performing in various neighborhood churches, doing our Christmas concert in the fancy hall was more intimidating than fun. We only got to rehearse in the big space twice. And I never got used to the odd sensation. As an audience member, chamber concerts sound exquisite. God only knows what it’s like for the performers. To sum it up, on stage, I hear my own voice with disturbing clarity. Maybe any good concert space is like this. Maybe I’m just not used to a good concert space. Whatever. I found the whole thing unnerving, never got used to it….

…so there I was sitting in the green room, waiting to go on. When it suddenly occurred to me. What is the order of things? Who is on first? I had this idea that…well, never mind…the idea was wrong. My contingent was on first. And in fact, all of them were queued up in the backstage hallway while I hustled to the men’s toilet. The latter being essential for anything I do, of course. And embarrassing? Oh, somewhat. But mostly gratifying. I liked to keep people waiting in this instance. I admit it. I had important things to do. Thus, my counter-phobic concert. Jane said we sounded timid at first. I swear, it’s that hearing-your-own-voice-too-clearly thing. Nevermind. On to….

…San Francisco, for the next day’s commemoration of the Newtown shootings. The deaths of 20 kids, six adults. Yes, it has been a year.

The first question, how to get there? I wring my hands over this sort of thing a lot these days. After all, I have the sparkling new van, all kitted out for me, unblemished, and perhaps too idle. So shouldn’t I drive? You know, just to keep in practice? After all, the redoubtable Caltrain’s schedule shrinks to an hourly trickle on weekends. Thrice hourly for BART, the regional metro system.

So I pondered, twisted myself in and out of the possibilities. For example, driving to San Francisco parking near our new house, then BARTing to Civic Center. Of course, I could have driven all the way. But I could just see that part of San Francisco in this, the holiday crush. Mad shoppers driving everywhere. Parking space at a phenomenal low. This, and the adjacent opera house besieged with Nutcracker hordes. Or was I being self-indulgent, histrionic? I mean, traffic usually doesn’t kill people, does it?

In the end, Jane and I had a thoroughly pleasant brunch by the Menlo Park station, I hopped the 12:34 northbound. At Milbrae, I insinuated myself aboard BART, alighted at Civic Center, preparing for a three-block roll to City Hall…which was not necessary. The Newtown commemoration was taking place right before my eyes, all of 30 meters from the BART elevator. Not that I wasn’t briefly confused. In fact, I wondered if this wasn’t a sort of teaser for the main event. But no, this was it, less than 50 of us standing just off Market Street, while an array of politicians spoke. It felt so small and sparse. And yet I was there. I had worried about this, whether the physical energy involved would be worth it. But here I was. And there was Nancy Pelosi, one of the nation’s great legislative leaders, speaking only a few feet away to us, a very sparse crowd. Well, not even a crowd. A tiny gathering. Which, she reminded us, is what happens to good causes. They take time, and time takes us, and then there’s someone new.

Pelosi hung around. She is enough of a luminary to roll on and off stage swiftly, leaping in a chauffeured car to head home…or the airport or anywhere. But, no, she posed for a photo op. Then stood and listened like the rest of us. At one point, she took the arm of a gray haired guy, someone she knew, maybe even revered, and quietly helped him to a seat.

‘She’s a mensch,’ I quietly observed to the rabbi who had just spoken. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said. I told the rabbi that she belonged in the same category…for, after all, it’s a big city with many a worthwhile cause. She waved her hand in a way that said ‘what else would anyone do?’ A Reconstructionist rabbi, I noted. More than noted. After all, this is San Francisco, my once and future home…and hers might be my future congregation. This connection being worth the entire trip. A man spoke of using crowdsourcing to raise funds to buy back guns. I introduced myself, told him his was a worthy cause, albeit a sub-drop in the bucket, more a molecule in the bathtub. Nevermind. He thanked me. And there was the BART elevator, and in about five minutes there would be my train. Very well. My work is done here. I hit the transit trail.

Comments are closed.