Monday, April 13, 2009

Guest Blogger: My leader in Rotary--Elizabeth

I have been thinking a lot about open mindedness this week and this came along this morning. I really enjoyed it.

"When my niece was eleven she begged for a guitar for Christmas.

She's studied classical violin since she was six, but that wasn't a skill she could use in the rock band she was forming with her friends.

That holiday she plinked out the notes to Good King Wenceslas. Three months later she was ripping through the guitar lead on Stairway to Heaven. She and her band mates couldn't come up with a name until my sister suggested "Helvetica." No one in the band realized that their fierce name was actually a computer font.

For her fourteenth birthday my niece asked for tickets to an all-ages heavy metal rock concert,a four-hour event on a Saturday afternoon. My sister and brother-in-law were reluctant to let her go, let alone accompany her. In a moment of impulsive compassion, I offered to be the parental eyes and ears and take my niece to the concert. I don't know why I do these things.

On concert day I picked up my niece and a friend. They were both dressed in skinny jeans, hoodies and Converse sneakers. I looked like, well, like I wasn't a fourteen year old girl going to a rock concert. We headed to the concert venue and got in line with a few hundred other kids wearing skinny jeans, hoodies and Converse sneakers.

The first band started playing at 4:15. There were no seats - the crowd stood on the dance floor in front of the stage, texting friends and raising their cell phones in photo salutes to the band.

I stood at a slight distance from the girls but the crowd quickly got dense. My niece turned to me and advised, "You better not stand there, it could be a little rough. Maybe you want to sit up there?"

I followed her pointing finger to a second level ringing the dance floor. It was filled with parents wearing golf shirts and khakis and sitting tolerantly on stools. Aha.

As I found a free stool, the spot where I'd been standing a minute earlier started churning like boiling water. I saw heads swinging, hair flying, as a group of boys hopped randomly and rapidly through the space that emerged, bumping each other like pinballs in an arcade game. Within a few seconds they reached a critical mass of about a dozen boys who just as quickly blended back into the crowd.

I was mesmerized. What just happened? I felt like Margaret Mead on a heavy-metal Samoa.

"That's called head banging and moshing." Somebody's mom on the neighboring stool shouted in my ear. She handed me a small transparent bag with two mint-colored pieces of spongey plastic. "First time, huh? Here, I always bring spares - ear plugs."

Over the next four hours six bands played in quick succession, bass guitars echoing through my chest and drums vibrating up through the soles of my feet. The crowd bobbed, texted, took photos with their phones.

Boys periodically churned up, moshed and dispersed. A few crowd surfers got passed to the stage, fronted by muscled security guards with patient expressions who gently lifted the surfers off the crowd, set them on their feet and pointed them to the sidelines.

As the last band left the stage I gathered up the girls. Their clothes were damp and their hair frizzed with humidity. " how was it?" I asked tentatively. "It was AWEsome," my niece pronounced. "I'll never forget this night!"

I'll never forget that night either, but not entirely because of the British band from Sheffield. My niece's birthday present was a mind-opening glimpse into a culture I didn't fully understand. The kids observed rituals, dress and behaviors that they both adopted and adapted to sustain their concert community.

That concert reminded me that if we want to connect with the members of any community, we need to try to understand them first. And to sustain our own communities, we need to keep some rituals and adapt others.

A fundamental step in sustaining a community is understanding that it has to evolve and change.

A fundamental step in connecting to others is understanding them before we expect them to understand us.

I could wish that my niece and I had gone to a string quartet concert. But it's more important for me to understand her as she is.

Understanding others is just as essential to sustaining our communities. To adopt and adapt, we don't need to learn to text or wear hoodies. We just need to open our minds."