Wednesday, January 21, 2009

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple...

Anyone who watched the Inauguration yesterday probably caught all or a little of the tune played by Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, and company. It was a rendition of an old Shaker dance song from 1848 originally entitled Simple Gifts. There was only one verse to said song (fitting for a song about simplicity), that goes like so,

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,

To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.

I remember this song from a Utopian Communities class I took in college, or maybe it was a music appreciation class. Either way, the familiarity of the tune, which is about as repetitive as that Lamb Chop's Play-Along song, struck me. I began to think about why such a piece was chosen for the Inauguration of Barack Obama. Is it because we're going to have to become a more communal, socialistic country to make it through these hard times? Is it just the idea of living off of less and working more that they were trying to get across? Was it just some pretty music?

In honesty, I admire the Amish, Quaker, and Shaker communities. I think, if I remember correctly, they are the 3 communal experiments that survived the longest, with the final Shaker member passing away in 1992 and the other two still surviving. They might be considered cults by some, but their commitment to simplicity, their denial of conventional modern-day wisdom, is bold and unflinching. How many people were watching in October 2006 as the Amish lived out the deepest love and forgiveness by not only refusing to retaliate, but reaching out to the families of their daughters' murderers. Their commitment to nonviolence is commendable, even if it seems foolish at times. The Quakers share the same commitment to non-retaliation, simplicity and peace. I don't think our whole country should up and embrace the ideals of these Utopian communities, but we have much to learn from them.

The idea I hope this musical piece is trying to get across is the second I listed. That of living off of less and working more. I have a lot of loan/credit card debt as I'm sure some of you do. Unfortunately, this keeps me from being able to give generously and live freely. My refusal to live simply for a while has trapped and caged me. I believe our country's addiction to borrowing and spending are what caused this economic problem in the first place. It's time to start "living simply so that others may simply live". To get out of debt and start over. To have friends and enemies over for supper. To stop borrowing and start producing: making art, building things, planting seeds, and living responsibly. But I don't need a president to do those things. I need a new me.


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