Guest Spot: Going beyond business of everyday life

Most of life is going about the mundane business of living. In our everyday, the vast majority of tasks and time are directed to maintaining existence. We cook to eat, to stay alive. We wash to stay clean, to stay healthy. We work to earn money to feed, clothe, house ourselves. We drive to work to etc., etc.

The actual jobs that the vast majority of us do are to keep us, and others like us, alive. We make cars to move people to their jobs, build houses so others can have shelter. We treat the sick to let them stay active, healthy, productive. We sell insurance to allow people to recover from losses and return to the tasks of staying alive.

Sometimes even routine tasks are rewarding, going beyond practicality. To some, the digging in a garden that may feed us can also bring a satisfaction, a delight on its own. The steady rhythm of building a stone wall can bring calm and pleasure. Writing a well-turned phrase can please the wordsmith. And the having-done can also please. To see what we have created, saved, endured can impart a glow.

There are a few things that are different, that approach pure joy. Eating a food that is better than simple nutrition, that is wonderfully savory, or transports us to another time, or kitchen or cook. Watching a child play, or better, engage us in their play. A good book. Coasting over water, not for food or transportation, but just for the feel of the sky, the wind, the wave.

This past Saturday night was one of those moments of joy. Poquatuck Hall, the 19th century meeting house in Orient, is the heart of the Oysterponds community. It hosts prosaic meetings of civic groups, lectures about wastewater, but also tales of whaling ships. And art. And music. Oh, the music. Regularly, local groups of singers and musicians use the hall for their practices and performances. Chamber music, piano recitals, folk songs, vocal ensembles and guest artists from beyond the North Fork bring enchantment to our small hamlet. These are things beyond the busyness of our routine lives.

Saturday was the eighth annual Anne MacKay Song Swap, a fundraiser for Poquatuck Hall. Billed as “an evening of song and music,” it was so much more. It was an assembly, a gathering of friends, neighbors and strangers who came to share, hear and savor local talent. Musicians, professionals and amateurs, from around our hamlets and beyond, are solicited to become part of this joyful noise.

We arrived a half-hour early, but already too late. The hall was full, clusters of people seeking standing room amid the chatter of folks reconnecting after a long winter of island solitude. The audience covered human age range, near-newborns to nonagenarians.

The talent likewise covered the spectrum. A 30-something mother played a guitar duet with a preteen son. A near-70 baritone accompanied a girl, 13, who had the voice and inflection of a grown woman. Eight musicians formed a supergroup that showcased each, as they also merged into a so-much-greater whole. A jazz piano piece contrasted, complemented mandolins and guitars wailing Woodie Guthrie tales of native land and deportees. A young teenager Rhapsodized about Bohemia, as if the song were written for him. Gilbert met Sullivan (via Tom Lehrer) in a rendition of patter singing by a 60-something bar mitzvah boy. Fiddles, keyboards, bass, harmonica blended, stood out and carried each of us into our own places, and brought us together.

I do not mention the names of any of these extraordinary artists, the organizers, the supporters, or even discuss Anne MacKay. Each deserves a review, praise and attention. But this is not a news story about the event and the specific performances. It is about an awakening, a remembering, a realization during the concert that this night, this experience is what the business, the busyness is for. These are the moments that are not about functioning, surviving, even thriving. These are the moments that are goodness on their own. That bring joy, that transcend.

I came to Orient for many things: comfort, a quieter, slower life. I have it, and yet I spend most days and nights still going about the business of my life. I wash, brush, cook, fix, attend meetings, read reports. But then I sail. I play with my grandchildren. And I spend an evening with my friends, neighbors, strangers, being carried into and beyond myself and my daily existence.

Thank you, Song Swap. Thank you, Poquatuck Hall.

Top photo: the eighth annual Anne MacKay Song Swap, (Credit: Holly Mastrangelo)

Robert Hanlon is president of the Orient Association.