Feb 20, 2009

Tis better to offend

'Tis better to have inspired and offended
Than never to inspired at all

I made that up mid-way through Chopin's Valse in E minor this afternoon, during an impromptu performance at my Aunt Ella's nursing home. What started off as a quick show-off of Galen and my The Lion Sleeps Tonight duet evolved into a medley of Chopin, Cats, Simon & Garfunkel, and a marvelous original creation by Galen.

Throughout the show my grandmother - my beloved nana who has loved and been proud of my music more than anyone, who treasured the annual tapes I would make for her, who forces me to play at every family party - this same grandmother asked me to stop, then asked that I at least play quietly. "The people here are crazy; they're already angry at this noise." I looked over at her proud, slightly-teary 95-year-old twin sister, delighted with the show and the chance to share me with her friends, and knew that neither request was possible. "I can't play Chopin quietly," I simply and honestly replied.

When I emerged from my music and looked around for the sea of angry seniors, I found that several had shuffled their walkers and chairs over to listen, one was still humming along (and one was still playing with the Whim-a-Whey African theme from 3 songs ago.) Yes, one or two probably were annoyed that they missed a few minutes of Oprah, but many others had shared in a joyous moment, opened to the magic of music.

Should I have denied Galen and my Aunt and her friends this beautiful sharing out of fear that one or two others would be inconvenienced? In general, the sad answer is yes. My grandmother is right, the prevailing rule is to reduce to the least-common denominator, to at all costs fit in and not offend anyone, not make anyone uncomfortable. Paint the apartment grey, play Neil Diamond muzak instrumental covers at the office, wear black to the opera, keep the curtains closed and for God's sake don't sing as you walk down the sidewalk.

Well grandma, my Texas neighbour's bumper sticker said "Well-behaved women rarely make history," and polite people rarely make ripples let alone waves of change. I say let's rise to the highest, connect with the best in others, bring more positive energy into the world even if a few people would prefer to lie low. Paint that cohousing wall purple; throw open the curtains and let some light in if the majority are ready to wake up.

This is either my true gift or greatest vice - probably both. I just can't respect or be shackled by people's petty fears and comfort levels. If 10 of us want to get naked in a stream and 2 are uncomfortable with that much flesh, it just doesn't make sense that the group would settle for a restricted experience. If those two had some deep religious convictions about nudity that would be a different matter, but respect for a person's true world views and respect for personal preferences are very different matters.

"But would it hurt you to wear a bathing suit or paint the wall beige?" is the comment I'd be expecting after this rant. In truth, yes. It hurts me, and hurts the world, anytime we aspire to less than we want and believe in and are capable of. We end up with a world that is restricted, less colourful and fun and spontaneous, less natural and real. We become less.

Today I brought Joy to a dozen seniors and a pleasant distraction to a dozen more, at the expense of putting out a few others. Nana might think I was being rude or inconsiderate; I believe the true inconsideration would have been denying beauty to 24 open people, just to not offend the other two.

So, if this article has offended you, just know that probably 6 other people are nodding or laughing or rising up charged at this very moment. I'm OK with that math.

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