By Tim Hayes
“Hayes, come and see me after school today – there’s a question I have for you,” said our high school band director. “Okay, Mr. B,” I replied, wondering whether I’d done something that would land me in trouble.
Turned out not to be trouble, exactly. Only troubling.
Later that day, in the band room, among other bandmates practicing and talking, Mr. B sat me down, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “How would you like to play tuba in the marching band?”
After a second or two, while my brain processed this completely unanticipated question, I did the only thing that felt right. I laughed in his face.
“That’s funny, Mr. B. What did you really want to ask me?”
“That’s it – I’d like you to play tuba in the marching band.” And suddenly my little high school world turned anything but funny. The tuba? What?!
“We need another tuba player. You’re kind of a big guy. It looks like you have the right embouchure for the mouthpiece. We need you. The band needs you,” he argued. “Even if you can’t play all the parts, you could just give it your best shot and keep your place in the formation.”
Understand at this point that I had been playing the drums since age seven. In the marching band, I played the tri-toms – three drums at once – strapped to me via a big shoulder brace. They weighed a ton. They were a challenge to play well. And I absolutely loved doing it.
But switch to the tuba? The tuba? Really?
“Well, I’ll give it a try, Mr. B.” For the good of the band.
A week later, lips sore as hell, brain frustrated at the lack of progress, and spirits all but crushed, I pleaded with Mr. B to please, please abandon this hopeless experiment and let me get back to my heart’s desire in the drum section. I guess he saw one of his most dedicated musicians ready to walk away completely – that, plus the fact that I would never, ever be able to play the tuba – and relented. Back to the drums and my true marching band calling.
And somehow, the band survived without that extra tuba player.
This teenage episode popped into my head a week or two ago, when a political story made the news. Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a three-term incumbent from Georgia, announced he would retire from office at the end of 2019, which led to the question of whether Stacey Abrams, one of the highest-profile figures to emerge from the 2018 midterm elections, would run to fill one of Georgia’s Senate seats.
In 2018, Abrams cams within 1.4 percentage points of becoming America’s first black woman governor but lost to then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Since then, she has devoted her considerable and valuable energies toward exposing and repudiating voter suppression, and promoting voter protection efforts in key states across the nation.
When asked whether she would run for the Senate from Georgia in 2020 – for the good of the nation, as the Democratic party argued – Abrams quickly shut that question down, stating that her voter promotion work would remain her first priority and sole focus.
We hear a lot about “the greater good.” How certain moments arise where a choice must be made regarding sacrificing personal priorities and peace of mind, in order to serve a higher purpose. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one,” as Spock said in one of those old Star Trek movies. And he was always so logical.
But the fact remains – it is still a choice, not an obligation. And sometimes the right choice means sticking with what makes you happy, fulfilled, challenged, and contributing meaningfully in your own personal way.
For Stacey Abrams, as for some in the political world during these supercharged times, that translates into working on causes away from the floor of a legislative body. For others, that means diving into the campaign and – a la Don Quixote – fighting a battle sure to fall short of the ultimate prize, but still providing a platform to air ideas and solutions that could potentially gain traction.
For 15-year-old me, in a crowded high school band room, it meant temporarily attempting to serve the greater good as defined by the band director, but in the end realizing that my role as a drummer would pay much better dividends.
Sometimes the tuba loses. And that’s okay.
Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes