“Mozart wrote that when he was 17, what have you done today?”
With a flourish Mr. Herrington clicked off the CD boom box that sat in the front of the classroom. Three mornings a week he conducted this music history class from his wooden desk chair in front of the room.
I was a college student in my second semester. Mr. Herrington was an overweight elderly gentleman, a church keyboardist, who had been all over Europe visiting every cathedral and church that he could visit. And, he knew his subject. He could regale the class with stories about his travels to a place where a composer lived or a piece of music was first heard. He could tell the tales of the composers’ lives in such a way that his students became involved in the gossipy antics.
At age 19, my response to his rhetorical question was to sit quietly and think to myself that I hadn’t done much. Then to strain to think of something that I could do.
At age 42, my perspective has changed considerably.
Mozart never orchestrated a household. He never managed to publish a trade magazine with a circulation of more than 70,000 people while at the same time making sure that a two-year-old arrived properly attired for a holiday sing at school—with a plate of cookies, capturing that sing on tape and camera for Daddy, who was at work, then sending pictures to the Grandparents on that same day, picking up the two-year-old, kissing the “owie”, making dinner (okay, ordering a pizza, I confess), and getting the Christmas tree decorated.
No, Mozart sat at a piano recording the melodies and harmonies that were flying around his most magnificent brain. I am not denying Mozart’s genius or his contribution to our lives. But I am denying the train of thought that suggests that if we are not orchestrating great symphonies, creating stunning visual art, or curing cancer, we are not living up to our potential. That kind of thinking is simply bunk.
My goal for living a productive and fulfilling life once revolved around such grandiose things—writing the great American novel or making the breakthrough scientific discovery that would change the world.
However, now I know that I will be more likely to change the world for the better simply by striving to live each day so that at least one person’s life is a little better because of me. What if every single person did the same: lived life with the goal of making at least one person’s life a little better every day?
That would mean being a little more patient with a child and a little more loving and forgiving with a spouse. That would mean smiling at the worker at the DMV or being polite to the customer service representative. That would mean an extra five minutes at work to help a colleague meet a deadline.
If every person strived to make at least one person’s day a little better every day, then everybody would probably find it easier to do the grandiose things: make the scientific discovery, write the novel, win the Olympic gold.
There can be great beauty in the everyday tasks if they are done with kindness, grace and love, and most of our lives consist of everyday, ordinary tasks. Life, in a sense, is a symphony, and I can live mine so that the melody is pleasant and the harmony is shared.
Mozart wrote a symphony when he was 17, but I can choose to live a symphony everyday.
© 2008,2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.