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Entertaining Ourselves

            I had the bittersweet pleasure yesterday of participating in a celebration of the life of Mark Rose, a local building designer and very talented bass fiddle player.  Hundreds of friends, many of whom were from other states and knew Mark from the Galax Fiddlers Convention, gathered to remember him, share their favorite stories, and—most importantly—sing and play the music he loved so much.  As old-time and bluegrass bands took the stage, a couple conspicuously missing their bass player, the words of favorite traditional songs took on much more meaning.  Emotions ranged from tears to can’t-help-it flatfooting, all completely appropriate.  It was a marvelous tribute to a friend gone too soon and a blanket of loving support enfolding the family.

            We are very fortunate in this area that many people still entertain themselves and others—not just the prize-winners, but people of all ages who strum guitars, thump basses, and pick banjos, honing their skills at making music.  Only a few decades ago, this was the only music many people had, other than singing at church.  Rather than turning on the television in the evenings, people gathered on the porch to tell stories, often the same ones over and over.  Communities put on plays, often very amateurish but full of laughter and camraderie.  I remember my parents participating in a play put on by the Fairview PTA and how much fun they had.

            I’m not sure how much this goes on today, especially in more urban areas.  I fear that we have raised a few generations that are only passive consumers of entertainment—movies, television, customized playlists that only give them what they have already decided they like.  As with many other skills, we have “outsourced” our own amusement; and we complain loudly when a concert or movie doesn’t meet our expectations.  We watch college and pro sports, instead of playing pick-up basketball or softball ourselves.  Increasingly, we are dividing ourselves into those few who have outstanding talent and make millions, and the rest of us who pay to watch them. 

            If we are going to meet the daunting challenges of this century, we need to get off the couch and develop our own skills and talents, both for our own growth and pleasure and for the community.   Never pass up a chance to encourage someone who is learning to play or sing, acting or supporting a local theater group, or playing recreational sports.  A great way to encourage yourself and others is by giving gift certificates to Chestnut Creek School of the Arts (disclaimer:  I volunteer there) and signing up for classes yourself.  I watched people amaze themselves on Saturday with what they were able to make, with expert instruction and guidance.  Apart from the item itself, people left with a new sense of confidence in their ability to create beauty with their own two hands.

            While many people complain that government is taking over their lives and limiting their freedom, we need to ask ourselves:  How much of our lives have we freely given away, only to have to purchase it from others?  True freedom includes the ability to take care of ourselves and help each other.