Back in June, I was walking out of a hotel in Chicago and spotted a group of guys unloading a van. It was clear that these were musicians. It's about as easy to spot a band as it is to notice when someone has accidentally caught themselves on fire. People in bands tend to have a specific look. If you see five guys hanging out together, and they all appear to be strategically disheveled, you are probably looking at a band.
I was with my boss, Doug, who walked right up to one of the guys and said, "Hey, what band are you in?"
"It's called Augustana," the guy said.
I geeked out a little bit. Not because I'm a big fan of Augustana (although I do like their music), but because I knew that they were touring with Counting Crows, which is my favorite band (even more than Springsteen). I asked if Counting Crows were in town, and he said that they were all playing together that night at the Taste of Chicago festival. So, later that night, I ditched Doug and attended the (free) Counting Crows/Augustana concert in downtown Chicago. While the entire set was amazing, the best parts of the show were when every member of both bands were on stage. During the Crows' set, Augustana reappeared on the stage for seven songs on the setlist. They did some amazing cover songs including Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere" and "Caravan" by Van Morrison. There were no fewer than twelve musicians on the stage, all doing something different than everybody else. And while each person was doing something independent, it all came together to make beautiful music. If one person had started playing the wrong song, everybody would have gotten off. Each part contributed to the whole, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
This is what it means to be a part of the human race. Each of us, in a thousand different ways, does something different than everybody else. However, each person's contribution informs the result of the whole.
I just finished reading a gut-wrenching book called Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. It's a memoir about a father who struggles and journeys through his son's drug addiction. One of the striking details of the book is how many times, when he is confronted with the destructive nature of his choices, the son shouts, "It's my life!" In other words, "My choices are mine alone. They only affect me, so I should be the only person who has an opinion about it."
As I read through the book, it became intensely obvious how false this claim really is. The father, the mother, the stepmother, the stepfather, the younger brother, the younger sister, family friends, and so many other people are deeply wounded and suffer at the hands of the boy's addiction.
This is a powerful example of how we are all connected. The consequences of my choices are not isolated to me. It's like being in a band. When I stop playing good music, the whole band suffers.
Perhaps this is what it means to be truly human; to understand the connectedness of all other humans. The realization that my choices have profound and endless ripples. Every choice leaves a fingerprint on all those who surround us, whether we realize it or not. We do not live in an isolation chamber. We live in a world filled with people making thousands of choices every day.
Dallas Willard says it like this:
"Anyone who says, ‘It’s just between me and God, or ‘What I do is my own business,’ has misunderstood God as well as ‘me.’ Strictly speaking there is nothing ‘just between me and God.’ For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me." (from Renovation of the Heart).
Perhaps being human means making choices and interacting with people in such a way that brings good into the lives of those within my sphere of influence. There is a deep level of naive self-absorption that accompanies the claim, "It's my life." Perhaps at some level, this is true, but my life leaves a mark on hundreds of other lives. So, my life is not just about me.
In his book Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians, Jewish mystic Lawrence Kushner says it like this:
"We are joined not only to people who have lived long before us, and who will live after we have died, but to people now living and to people we do not know…Nothing is ever detached, alone. We are all parts of one great living organism."
Each of us is part of the same band. When one person stops playing the music, everybody suffers. It's a train wreck.
But when everybody is playing their part, it's a beautiful sound.
Here is the set list from the Counting Crows concert at Taste of Chicago on June 27, 2009:
Caravan (with Augustana)
Mrs. Potter's Lullaby
A Long December
Washington Square (with Augustana)
Mr. Jones (with Augustana)
Why Should You Come When I Call? (with Augustana)
Rain King/With a Little Help From My Friends (with Augustana)
Cecilia (with Augustana)
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (with Augustana)
Holiday in Spain