As a rule I prefer distance from people, which probably seems ironic to anyone reading a blog about connection. It’s not that I don’t love people. I actually love human beings a great deal, but I tend to admire them from afar. 40 years of accumulated scars have left me nervous and distrusting of others. It’s leaves me with a fine balance of interaction, keeping enough distance for my comfort, but not fully disconnecting from others, from the interactions that make us human.
That’s the place that led me to studying Taiko.
I love this Japanese style of drumming, and I love being in the group. For some people who’ve drummed with me that might seem odd. I am notoriously quiet around people, and I don’t smile a lot. In truth, that particular expression seems alien to me. But over a year of playing and studying, the people I drum with have become family. You can feel the spirits of people when you play music like that together, no matter how much they may hide behind a stoic expression and a beard.
It’s even been noticed by one of the members of my Taiko family, that you can see me smiling in my eyes, even though my face always has trouble with that expression.
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. My Monday night drumming is missed dearly, and even more valued than it has been over the past year.
For the better part of that year, I’ve spent those evenings at a drum, playing music with Dorathea Chaplin. We’ve stood next to each other, playing our drums, and I know almost nothing about her save what can be observed outside of conversation. I know she smiles, even when we struggle to hit the precise timing of a piece, there is a brightness, a joyous discipline, a love of the journey.
Sharing stories with her, it becomes so clear that her journeys have meant so much. Not just the journey to learn the drum, but the journeys that accompanied the guitar, her health, that long awaited trip to Japan, and the entry into a new world we all take at some point, but don’t always acknowledge it.
Dorathea and I couldn’t come from more opposite backgrounds, and yet we are very much the same. We both had to come into new worlds as we grew older, placed very different from where and how we grew up. I have often faced these challenges taking on the stoic face of a combatant, challenging the changes to beat me, and persevering more in defiance than anything else. Dorathea smiles. Oh, she cries too. She is a person, and so she feels the same way any of us do in stressful, changing times, but she smiles on the journey most of all.
During our talk, I prepare to tell the story of how this whole thing started for me. It’s become a regular part of the practice. But she’s read up on it, she knows the story. Dorathea tells me what drew her to connect were two things. First, my battle with depression, she has seen and known people fighting this same issue and there’s a great deal of empathy from her. It’s nice to not be judged for your battles.
Second, she’s a writer too. I think about that for a moment. Dorathea and I have played drums together for a while, seeing her regularly had become an expected part of my week, and yet I never knew she was a writer. She tells me about what got her started, about how she loves the journey, the editing, the trial of it all, and the stories that are crafted. Turns out she’s written a lot, through she’s been on a bit of a hiatus. Dorathea tells me about one of her stories and how I can find it online. After we finish, I head immediately to it.
It’s nothing short of brilliant. You should read it too. And you can find it here.
Two hours flies by in the company of my friend. We talk about Taiko, about the state of the world. Stories swap, smiles are shared, and for a friendship grows much deeper. Honestly, it makes the separation from Taiko a little worse, but fills me with joy to know that this too shall pass, and we will play music together again. But this time we will know more about one another, and so that music can be much more, with new layers.
We wrap and I find myself playing my practice drum soon after. Not looking for perfection, but feeling the beat, performing the music that I love, that has shown me love and acceptance. It feels good, knowing that my friends, all of them including Dorathea, are playing these same melodies somewhere. We are not so far apart as we seem.
It’s true that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. There’s a reason we call them clichés after all. But that age old wisdom is flawed. It forgets a simple piece.
Not everything has to be gone.
Sometimes absence is a reminder, a chance to grow something more, to not only prevent a loss, but deepen a friendship.
I will always be grateful to Dorathea, for the lesson, and for the friendship.
Social distance and the isolation that accompanies it can be hard for many, especially when you combine it with the stress of our current situation. Please, reach out and connect with people. Share your stories and your time. Use the technology available to stay close to people.
If you want to be a part of this project and share some time and stories with others, or if you just need to connect with someone, reach out to me here.