San Diego City College celebrated itself this week. Coming the day after the election, I saw the showcase of faculty and student talent that launched my novel, THE FOUR SEASONS, from a perspective that might have escaped me otherwise. This has been so much on my mind that I want to share it with anyone who is listening.
My good friend and colleague Stephanie Robinson (pictured with me to the right) has been training in the operatic style of singing for years, but probably only a handful of people at City knew that, since she teaches electronic music composition–almost the polar opposite. When we talked last spring about putting on a launch for my novel, we realized that we knew almost nothing about what our colleagues do when they’re not at work. My guess is we had the skills among us to have offered a work for chamber orchestra at the event, but we didn’t know whom to ask. Most of us, myself included, try to cram as much work into our time on campus as we can, and don’t do much hanging out in the corridors, or sitting down in the often-deserted staff dining room area just to see who stops by. “I don’t have the time to get started,” I tell myself. “I don’t have the energy to get involved in any more lives.”
This isn’t good. I realize this with a particular sense of urgency now, since less than two weeks ago, a thirty-nine year old colleague in my department had a stroke. It isn’t clear why, but she thinks she knows, and her message to all of us, even before she had regained the ability to speak clearly, was “Slow down.” I’m going to try. I’m clear enough about who I fundamentally am not to expect a sea change in how I go through my day, but even baby steps to connect with others will make my life richer.
But that’s not really what I most want to say. In the afterglow of the election, I want to shout to the world a beautiful principle that was reinforced by putting on this show. When I decided that I didn’t want my launch to be just about me and my book, but to include others whose achievements also deserved celebrating, I set in motion something that has come back to bless me many fold. Rather than a small event in someone’s home or in a restaurant somewhere, THE FOUR SEASONS was launched in a theater packed with several hundred people. I don’t have that kind of draw myself, but together all the performers–Stephanie, dj, George, Terry, John Mark, Zaquia, and Ramon—did. The bookstore sold two full cartons of books, many to people who knew nothing about my novel before the event and can’t wait to tell others about it. Stephanie and all the other performers have new fans, and people are talking about how the college can keep this form of self-discovery going.
Sharing the wealth is not a scandalous concept despite recent attempts to make it seem so. It is the wellspring of the most profound blessings that come to us as individuals and as a society. Especially in times that are bound to grow more difficult for all of us, we must never forget that our real treasure is each other. I am reminded of this every time I enter the classroom at San Diego City College. The environment in which I teach was not possible when I was growing up. In fact, when I started kindergarten in 1955, it was illegal. My students (Stephanie’s and my team-taught class is pictured below) are African-American, Asian, Latino/a, and White; gay and straight; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Atheist; male and female; native born and immigrants; vegan and omnivore. They span several decades in age, have more brains than money, and more hope than despair. It’s wonderful how comfortable they are with each other, and how open and eager they seem to be about making friends with people unlike themselves. They “get it,” that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and they are a microcosm of where we as a people need to be. We all need to want for each other what we want for ourselves, because we are all in this together.