Today is my birthday, and as often the case, I’m celebrating in a hotel room, with Pinkerton. I always seem to be on the road at this point in January, even in the midst of Covid!
I’m generally not a huge birthday person – while I enjoy an opportunity to throw a party or gather with friends, neither requires a special day just for me. Sharing a birthday with a friend in San Francisco has meant that when I am home for my “special day”, I’m part of a joint celebration, which is more fun anyway. This year’s birthday is a big one, though, so I’m a little sad that I can’t share it with the people I love, but it seems somehow fitting in these pandemic times.
Birthdays, in any case, celebration or not, are markers of the passage of time. While others may take stock on New Year’s Eve, looking back at the time past and making resolutions for the future, my birthday is when I reflect on where I have come. And today I was reminded of something I do as a conductor.
When I’m conducting a piece which involves a soloist and orchestra, there are occasionally spans of time in which the soloist plays by themself, while the orchestra waits to play again. These silences are generally notated, and most often, for clarity, I’ll make a small gesture at the beginning of every bar of silence. It helps everyone keep track of where we are, even when nothing is happening in the orchestra, so that we’ll all be ready to start playing again. It’s called marking time.
While marking time may be helpful in that particular context, today I’ve been thinking that it’s not something we should strive for in life. I often catch myself, particularly during these last 10 months of waiting for for the world to start functioning again, simply marking time. I note the passage of a day, or a week, while all the time it feels like nothing is happening – I’m not a part of the process of the world, just simply keeping track until it’s (metaphorically and otherwise) time for me to start playing again.
When we mark time we are assuming a better future in which we anticipate some sort of joy in which we’d like to participate. And in the process we lose the opportunities to participate today, now, right now, even if it doesn’t feel like anything of note is happening. And as I spend a quiet afternoon in my hotel room, I’m reminding myself that while I may be waiting for many months to host a big celebration for my milestone, I can still be present for myself right now. And that every moment is a celebration, of being alive, of being me.