Today is my 86th birthday. You would never know it, would you, although that characterful grey spot in my hair is ever expanding. You see, I have two days each year which I celebrate in a birthday-like fashion.
The first celebration of my coming into the world is marked on January 6th and was celebrated for the very first time in 1976, allowing me the privilege of being 43 years old. March 10th is the other day that I observe with great gusto! Why March 10? Why, indeed… The story begins at St. Thomas Aquinas school, the illustrious elementary school in Branch where we learned daily about everything from galaxies to the Maritime Archaic Indians to the plight of the people of Ethiopia, all of it infused with a strong sense of God and faith. It was at St. Thomas Aquinas where our annual school trip in grade six was not to St. John’s but to Red Head where Mrs. Nash (Elly) would teach us about beach peas and the mishmash of minerals that formed rocks called conglomerates.
The journey was magical. It was on this grade six adventure where, Chris remembers, Patrick Power recorded the soothing sounds of the river and played these for Elly. She was delighted. Everyone was enthralled. As you can tell, St.Thomas Aquinas was an interesting place. A combination, really, of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the School of Music and Performing Arts from Fame combined with an elementary version of Harvard, all overseen by a school board from the Vatican.
So far reaching was the academic fervour of our small school that Stevie, Michael and Mary Power suffered through afternoons of me pretending to teach the geography of Asia while other children made snow forts or skated on the river.
It was there on March 10th, 1988 that the grade 6 class was given a music test. Mrs. Nash had been trying to teach us the intricacies of music theory, including the importance of the treble clef. I can still recall the fanciness of the S- like G clef and equal the plainness of the F clef. On that fateful day though, none of it seemed very beautiful. As the shiny ink-smelling paper lay before for me I struggled to remember where to put the notes on that staff. I simply panicked. Nothing was making sense. The little notes were clashing together in my 12-year-old head as clanging symbols. The panic followed me throughout the entire exam and when it was over I quickly recognized that this was the first time in my short life that I had ever felt that way.
After a moment of reflection (and fear of a bad mark!) I vowed there and then to remember that day, and instead of focusing on how the test had been so very difficult, I would instead honour the memory of that that day by being kind to myself...forever. What a great lesson it was for me as a child and for all of us. Instead of focusing on the fear and the challenge, I knew it was better to focus on the lesson. And what was that lesson from the little music theory test on the hill in Branch?
The lesson was this…choose to attend to the positive. Actively work to nourish the good. Live in the present. Focus on our blessings. Be kind to yourself. And to others. All small lessons espoused by everyone from the Dalai Lama to the Pope. And in this season of Lenten reflection, lessons which we might invoke daily. So here we are on March 10th. I am celebrating by enjoying a cup of hot tea, looking out over the sparkly bay, walking up the frozen ribbon of Beckford River with my lover, counting my blessings and thanking God that I am only minutes away from where I first took that music theory test.