At a Christmas pageant, a towheaded violinist, maybe five years old and wearing a paisley bowtie, yawned as he walked from the auditorium into the foyer full of vendors. He saw Santa, gasped, and zig-zagged his way to Santa. The boy said, “I’m going to play you a song,” pulled out his violin, bowed deeply, and played his favorite song: a monophonic articulation exercise syllabifying “pea-nut but-ter sand-wich.” His forehead crinkled and fine hair flew as he emoted, over and over, “pea-nut but-ter sand-wich.” He stopped, and the little, round cheeks dropped into a dignified face to accompany a serious bow. Everyone clapped. Still holding the serious look, the little boy thrust out his chest, walked to the next vendor, bowed, and repeated the performance. He performed “Pea-nut but-ter sand-wich” for every vendor.
At another Christmas show, during intermission, I watched a world-renowned violin soloist play someone’s ancient and dignified violin. He played more notes than I could keep track of before nodding approvingly and returning the instrument to its owner. He played exponentially more notes than the little boy with more skill than the boy will likely ever possess, but he was only playing notes. Few people noticed. The boy played few notes with little skill, but he played with his entire being. He enchanted the room.
When I was little, I envied girls for their mothers’ attention during hair brushing. As a student, watching teachers who devoted themselves entirely to academia and the pursuit of knowledge inspired me. As a teacher, I find the same inspiration in my students.
Now that I have a master’s of music in performance tuba, am a year from a master of fine arts in creative writing, maintain a tuba studio, and teach English, I see that I am driven by passion, by beauty, by love, by devotion. And I see that they are different sides of the same drive: intention.
I believe that the quest for intention creates the beauty that drives humans. We admire trees because they grow with what we would consider the single-minded pursuit of treeness. We entrap the most superfluous examples in asphalt mazes and gawk at the biggest, the tallest, the oldest from preordained vistas. We overlook that, two campsites away, a grandfather teaching his granddaughter to split a perfect piece of kindling, just like his grandfather taught him, that the grandfather lives with the same love and acts with the same perfect intent as the spectacular tree.
Call it love, call it intention, call it devotion, call it a mother changing her baby, a boy swallowing a pollywog, a concerto recital, an old woman trimming the hedge she planted when she was young, intention shapes everything we do and creates fantastic, single-minded beauty we love. I believe that such beauty, no matter its relative complexity or skill, is our past, measures our excellence, and shapes our future because I believe that by questing for beauty, perfection, love, by acting with intention, we find hope.
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