Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A View from the Dressing Room

This month I've been participating in a major musical production performing in six different locations. It's been a wonderful learning experience--especially in the dressing room that is shared by several dozen women and teen girls.

Being in six different locations means we are always learning a new layout of the land. One location might have a huge changing area while another has extremely limited space. For example, at a high school location, the women were relegated to share the band room as a changing area. We hung our costumes on music stands and waited our turns to use the full-length mirrors in the very small restroom located several hallways away.

At one theater, we were led to the basement and told to look for the room with our names on a list posted on the door. As I walked through the hall, I glanced into one room where around ten women sat comfortably putting on their stage makeup in front of lighted mirrors. Perfect, I thought to myself. We'll finally have a decent-sized space with some elbow room.

The door holding my name opened into a large space with some tables and chairs--sans mirrors. Around thirty women and teens carrying suitcases and garment bags jostled their way through the crowded room to find a semi-private space or a corner where they could change and put on make-up. It was chaotic, to say the least, but everyone tried to be as considerate as possible.

Suddenly the door jerked open and a woman, sporting a massive chip on her shoulder, barged in dragging her wheeled suitcase behind her. She took one look at the crowded room and loudly declared, "Where in the world am I supposed to change? This is ridiculous. I'm outta here." She did an about-face and exited the room, pulling her suitcase (and shoulder chip) clumsily out the door. (In a moment of show biz enthusiasm, I wanted to call out, "Break a leg!" but I resisted the temptation.)

Later during the performance I watched as she stood on the theater stage and sang angelically before a cheering crowd. Her platform appearance certainly didn't match her dressing room performance. She may have put on a good act for the audience, but credibility with the fellow-actors who saw her in the dressing room was lost.

The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means "stage actor or pretender."  If we're not mindful of what we do in private, what we do in public will soon be discovered as mere acting. And, it will end up costing us our integrity. I think that's too high a price to pay just to get our own way.

You know what they say: "The show must go on!" But remember--the real show begins in the dressing room, not on the stage.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Unified Harmony

Two psychologists, Jack Lipton from Union College and R. Scott Builione, a graduate student at Columbia University, conducted a study of sixteen major symphony orchestras to discover stereotypes and personality traits attributed by orchestra members to the other four major sections--percussion, string, brass and wind. (Visit to read more about the study.)  They presented their findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Association:

  • The percussionists were viewed by other orchestra members as insensitive, unintelligent, hard-of-hearing, but fun-loving.
  • String players were seen as arrogant, stuffy and unathletic.
  • Brass players were described as "loud."
  • Woodwind players seemed to be held in the highest esteem, described as quiet and meticulous, although a bit egotistical.
Interesting, isn't it, that the members of the orchestra were labeled according to the instrument they played. How fair is that? I know a lot of sensitive, intelligent percussionists. Our daughter plays strings, but she's far from arrogant and stuffy--although she is a bit unathletic. A former parishioner of ours played the [loud] trumpet professionally, but he was one of the most meek, subdued men you could ever meet. A good friend of mine plays a wind instrument. Yes, she is quiet and meticulous, but egotistical she's not.

So, how can such a divergent group come together to produce wonderful music? The psychologists concluded, "Regardless of how those musicians view each other, they subordinate their feelings and biases to the leadership of the conductor. Under his guidance, they play beautiful music."

Everyone plays a different part in the orchestra of life. Our similarities make us unified--our differences make us harmonized. Whether we are working with a team, serving on a committee or joining a group, we need to subordinate our feelings and biases so the end results will sound like music to all who hear.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Sixty-Second Lesson

I saw a dog get hit by a car today. It was a horrible start to a Monday morning, and everything happened in a matter of seconds.

I was in the right lane of a five-lane road when I heard a voice on the other side of the street shout what sounded like, "Oh no!" Then came a thump. I thought the car next to me had run over some sort of debris. I looked in my side-view mirror in time to see a dog rolling across the lanes of traffic. All of the cars behind the accident stopped as the owner ran to rescue his pet. Some of the cars pulled over to the side to assist the dog owner. Sadly, the driver of the car that hit the dog just kept driving.

Realizing there was nothing I could do about the situation, I drove home in a somber frame of mind. Thinking back on the incident, I can see a lot of actors, actions and lessons in this sixty-second scenario:

  • The pet: The poor little guy was just out for a brisk morning walk with his owner. Apparently he broke free from his leash and headed to where he thought the action was--five lanes of cars! The leash was his restraint, but it was also his protection. When we feel like we are being restrained, it could be for our own protection. Let's not be too quick to break free to run to something that could end up being very dangerous.
  • The pet owner: He began his day with what was probably a routine dog walk. I'm sure seeing his dog hit wasn't on his list of things to do today. Life can blindside us with disappointments and hurts. No one is immune to challenging circumstances, but God has promised to help us in the day of trouble (read Psalms 46:1-3). 
  • The casual observer: That would be me. After realizing what happened, I just kept driving as I observed through my side-view mirror. The images of what happened became smaller as the distance between myself and the accident became greater. After turning a corner, the entire situation was out of my sight. When we witness unfortunate circumstances, sometimes our first tendency is to not get involved. I rationalized that other cars were stopping to help, so what difference would it make if I turned back? Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference for the pet owner, but it would have made a difference to me knowing I had done everything I could to help. If we do everything we can, we won't have to second-guess ourselves--as I'm doing right now.  
  • The active observers: All of the cars behind the accident stopped. I saw some pull over to the curb as drivers and passengers got out to help the pet owner. It was a very moving sight to witness. No doubt, the only regret those drivers have today is that they had to witness such a sad scene. I'm sure that not one of them regrets stopping to help.
  • The oblivious driver: The guilty driver seemed totally unaware of what had happened. Did she even look in her rear-view mirror to see what happened? Apparently not. A few blocks away, she made a left turn at the light and went on with her day, completely oblivious to the chaos she left in her wake. It's easy to throw people under the bus when we don't take responsibility for our own actions. People can be seriously hurt from our thoughtlessness. Maybe we need to be more alert of what we do or say so we can avoid unnecessary injury. 
I've had better starts to my weeks. But, the silver lining is that the few-second tragedy this morning taught me a lot of lessons that will help me become a better person. I hope they help you, too.