When I asked myself what I’m most grateful for this Thanksgiving season, a recent walk through the Hill Top woods in Spring Green, Wisconsin instantly came to mind. Sunny but crisply cool, the fall weather was perfect. Colorful turning leaves were at their brilliant best.
I hadn’t seen long-time friend Janelle Fritz for thirty years and counting. But it could have been yesterday. Authentic friends are like that.
Why did we come together again now? Long story.
On the surface, the catalyst was a note I sent while she and husband Ty were still wintering in Arizona. I had expressed my thanks to his father, Herb Fritz, in the dedication of Rethinking Survival, I told her. Further, in the autobiographical section, I wrote about his being the sole survivor and witness of the 1914 Taliesin massacre, as well as about performing string trios at Hill Top with Herb and his sister, Frances Caraway. I wanted Ty and Janell to know about the dedication first, from me.
On that October day, there was much catching up to do. Words came easily on both sides, punctuated, of course, by spontaneous bear hugs.
I was fascinated to find out that she too is a good friend of the I Ching. Or perhaps, better put, the Book of Change has been a good friend to her. Like me, she has repeatedly turned to the Wilhelm/Baynes edition over the years to survive seriously challenging, tough times. It has served to keep her pointed steadfastly towards her inner True North.
Though I never doubted the outcome, still I rejoiced to see that she’s weathered her personal storms wonderfully and has become even better for them. It’s apparent that this tiny woman (even smaller in size that I am) is the true backbone of her family. And I said so! (Sometimes it helps to hear it from a friend.)
Since our walk, I’ve been reading Bill George’s books, including True North and Authentic Leadership. They describe Janelle to a Tee. She’s centered in her True North. In direct, simple terms, she’s an exemplary authentic leader. Her beliefs, words and actions are consistent across the board. She’s devoted to her family, becaring not only Ty, their sons and now grandchildren (WOW!), but also her sprightly mother-in-law, Eloise Fritz, who’s now 89 years-old.
Janelle was a dancer. In Arizona, she told me, she owned and ran a dance studio. Like Eloise before her, who ran a girls camp at Hill Top, Jan’s purpose was to encourage and bring out the best in young women. Horse riding and dance were incidental to the deeper, soul purpose of their businesses.
We both, Janelle and I, have given up our early avocations. She couldn’t understand, at first, how I could give up music. It was only when I explained it in terms of her releasing the dance studio that she recognized the common thread.
I explained the change in I Ching terms. “The larger the front, the larger the back.” And “Every extreme turns into its opposite.” The benefits – the front side – of the music were enormous. As a child, I lived and breathed in continuous joy. Immersed in music, I was shielded from the dark side of living in a dysfunctional family on a dysfunctional planet.
Music taught me many important life lessons. As Einstein observed, discipline learned through violin practice came much easier than it would have through harsh obligation. Playing in string ensembles and orchestras was a model for cooperation as well as for following the single lead of a conductor.
Music eventually led me, via Menhuin students, to yoga, complimentary medicine, and the scriptures which teach methods for actualizing the Unified Theory reformulated by Einstein. Like every discipline studied with love, focus on music led me deeper, first to the physics and then to the origins and mysteries of sound.
Sufi Inayat Kahn, the great sarod player, explained how this can be. In Music, he wrote:
The art of music has been especially considered divine, because it is the exact miniature of the law working through the whole universe. For instance, if we study ourselves we shall find that the beats of the pulse and the heart, the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, are all the work of rhythm. Life depends upon the rhythmic working of the whole mechanism of the body. Breath manifests as voice, as word, as sound; and the sound is continually audible, the sound without and the sound within ourselves.
Inayat Khan became a role model. As a teacher and author, he himself became the instrument. From his example, I recognized that, like him, I had to give up that which I loved most, my brown-blond,1776 Mathias Thier violin, to go beyond it.
It was necessary because the back of the coin was as great as the front. Over time, the blessing had changed into its opposite. Once the lessons had been learned, holding on to their vehicle would have held me back. I was not only shielded. I had become oblivious to the rest of the world and the responsibility to serve. Music had become an addiction and an obstacle to further, necessary growth.
But, as Janelle was quick to point out, Nothing is ever lost. Only changed. Everything cultivated as a musician is now funneled into the writing. I’ve become the instrument of the ideas that kept me focused True North even during confusing, difficult times. Now I weave in the music of language using the medium of a computer keyboard.
Similarly, Janelle and Ty have dedicated their Hill Top inheritance from Herb and Eloise to building a community center where people gather to honor the passages of their lives. They come to celebrate weddings and return to commemorate their milestones, including anniversaries. Life continues to evolve. We change, yet the True North of constant friendship remains the same.
For that I am abundantly, infinitely grateful.