The auditorium at the Detroit Waldorf School
The auditorium at the Detroit Waldorf School

Late-day sun slanted into the high windows of the old school building. Detroit Waldorf. Indian Village. June 3, 2016.

It was the third night of school programs, recitals, finishes, for my children. My husband, parents, and I sat on hard wooden folding seats in the auditorium as the third, fourth, fifth grades and then the middle-schoolers, walked in wearing black on the bottom and white on the top and carrying themselves with such poise, I wondered if these were children or an orchestra.

And they played as if they were the latter.

On the back of the program, under an all-caps heading of WHY WE TEACH MUSIC, it said this:

Not because we expect you to major in music;

Not because we expect you to sing all your life;

Young girl playing the violinNot so you can relax, not so you can have fun;

But so you will be human. So you will recognize beauty.

So you will be sensitive. So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world. So you will have something to cling to. So you will have more love, compassion, gentleness, good – in short, more life!

Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living unless you know how to live?

The entrance to the Detroit Waldorf School
The entrance to the Detroit Waldorf School

This is why my son attends the Detroit Waldorf School and why, when I step foot beyond the gates, and slow my gait underneath the canopy of old trees, I feel different, like I’ve entered a world that does not extend across this vast humanity, but should.

It feels like a place where time is not overrun by advancements and competition, like a place where what is good and innocent is worth preserving. I see it in my older kids when they come with me, all the disdain for the hippy-happy nature of the place melt away when they step foot onto the soil that leads them to the play structure.

We’re talking 14 years old and 12 years old and if I turn my back and walk away, it won’t take long before they are climbing and running and playing with abandon and not even realizing that they, too, have been overcome with a wave of good and innocence and playfulness.

That’s missing in most corners of our world. In their middle-school milieu, it’s all what people think and who’s snapping what and what instagram ploy is affecting them today. My eldest son awakens in the morning and before I can hug him hello, he’s scanning his smart phone. I tell him to turn it off, that we can read at breakfast, and talk, and I get a begrudging huff in response.

“Mom, chill,” is a typical answer, which I don’t love, but perhaps it’s a sign of the times.

Hiking trail in a forestI think about how much they protest when I say we are going on a hike, and when we get to the woods or the trails or the mountainside, all pretense falls away, as if it were never there in the first place, and the precious souls emerge with wonder and resilience and love.

There is an article in yesterday’s New York Times about how the great American road trip is making a comeback, that since the recession, even millennials are wanting some tangible experience that creates memories rather than possessions that can be taken away or wither. That taking to the open road is a luxury we now want to claim, discovering the stops along our meandering way, and sharing the space of the car’s interior so that we will hold on to this moment together forever after.

I wonder what the legacy of so much connectedness and smart-phone superficiality will be.

Will we have a generation, or two or three, who can’t figure out what it means to be human, to feel deeply, to understand the pain or joy of another?

I almost sound like the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey when the telephone comes in to the great house, or the cook when the electric mixer or ice box are introduced. Progress IS welcome and dear, and in many cases makes our lives better.

But not all things are equal, and I am more than convinced that when we take ourselves out of the eye-contact, human-touch, listening equation, we are walking down a very dark road indeed.

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