Windows of Opportunity
As I rapidly approach the age of 80, I think about my personal window of opportunity. We are alive for what seems like a long time and usually is a period of several decades. But now and then I think about how my life has coincided with other lives and what that has meant to me. In my lifetime, I have had the chance to experience the presence of people like Bud Powell, John Coltrane. Clark Terry, Bill Evans and other great musicians, seeing them perform in person. Though I had the chance, I didn’t get to hear Charlie Parker because I didn’t yet realize how important it would have been to me. I missed hearing Vladimir Horowitz because I didn’t know about the performance until it was over. I never pursued hearing Glenn Gould even though I was very impressed by his playing of Bach.
If my window had occurred 50 years earlier, I could have experienced Art Tatum and Fats Waller in person. I could have heard Stravinsky conduct the premier of the Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913. I might have heard Rachmaninoff perform one of his concertos. If the window was shifted 100 years earlier, I could have heard Brahms perform. I could have heard Lincoln give his Gettysburg Address. Shift the window another 50 years earlier and I could have been there to hear Beethoven conduct one of his symphonies. We think the repetitive V-I cadences sound funny now but I think it would have been powerful to be there to hear them for the first time! If my window had started 250 years ago, I might have heard Bach play his music in St Thomas church in Liepzig.
Meanwhile, we experience hundreds of little windows in our lifetimes. If my father’s window had been a couple of seconds earlier or later, he might not have been killed by a drunk driver. If my window had been just a few minutes later, I might not have met my wife of 30 years. During my window, numerous opportunities presented themselves. I seized some and ignored others. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been had I chosen different opportunities. That’s why I think situations involving a choice deserve our careful consideration.
In no particular order, here are some of the people who have been influences in my window and for whom I am grateful: John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, John Williams, Bela Bartok, Aaron Copland, Gabriel Faure, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Paul Hindemith, Giacomo Puccini, James Brown, Sting, James Taylor, Frank Zappa, Robert De Niro, Kathryn Hepburn, Alan Sorkin, Georgia O’Keefe, Claude Monet, Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Bill Maher, John Cleese, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Horowitz, Alvin Ailey, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Luciano Pavarotti, George Shearing, Bill Evans, Clark Terry, John Coltrane, Oscar Petersen, Art Tatum, Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, and many more whom I’m sure I will continue to think of after this is printed!
I love the particular time I am alive now with all of its unique opportunities. But I think back to my youth when we would have milk delivered to our house in glass bottles. On winter mornings, the cream on top would freeze and push up out of the bottle. I also remember how we would pick up the only phone in the house and hear an operator say, “Number please?” We hung laundry out on a clothesline to dry and, in the winter, the sheets would become frozen tents. As kids, even though there was bus service, we would ride everywhere on our bikes. We also spent a lot of time on roller skates which had four wheels, not in line. We had no TV or other electronic devices so we spent all of our time outdoors playing baseball, riding bikes and climbing trees. When we came inside, we listened to The Lone Ranger on the radio. On Saturdays, our mothers would drop us at the local movie theater for a day of triple feature movies, some cartoons, and short films that always ended with “cliff hangers” that guaranteed we would be back next week to see what happened. It was a great childhood and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
In the current part of my window, I can send an email message to someone and receive an answer almost immediately. What a boon to communication! Of course, it is a double edged sword because immediate response is often expected! But the ability to communicate with others anywhere in the world within a few minutes is fabulous! Now we can not only record performances but we can record both audio and video. This presents the most complete, realistic documentation we could possibly ask for.
Of course i am grateful for many, many wonderful friends with whom, I have shared this window. We have grown together, learned together and shared many wonderful times together. I don’t know what will occur after my window closes but, in addition to technology, I hope the human race will evolve further to achieve a perspective that puts emphasis on treating each other better. To me, the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” still matters.