It's much more than a snare drum.
It's more than thousands of rudiments, rolls, and flamadiddles. It's more than heavy, driving backbeats, and riotous rim shots. More than the shows it played for the hundreds and thousands.
It's the hand of God. Its arrival, the butterfly's wing at the heart of my happiest hurricane.
I have no recollection of writing on my Christmas wish list that I wanted a drum set. She took note. Ms. West called my parents, and offered them the snare drum she had played as a young woman. They accepted.
The Twentieth Century Fox movie intro, paradiddles, and books of rudiments. Mostly just noise. Then the drum set in sixth grade. Some basic beats.
I tried so hard to be friends with them in seventh. Punched in the shoulders over, and over. Slammed into lockers. Even the classic "kick me" sign. My picture, taken from the pretty girl's collection and taped to a milk carton. "Have you seen this kid? He's missing!" he sneered. They laughed. I wanted to go missing.
More experiments in cruelty.
It got pretty damningly dark right around then. Almost lost it, as the light went out.
I didn't puke on the first day of 8th grade. I thought I was going to as we got off the bus. The anxiety, debilitating.
The halls weren't safe, so it was just me and the snare drum. We'd sit alone in the band room together before school started. The teacher never asked why.
Right Left Right Left Right Left Right Left. Survive. Survive. Just survive.
Then, slowly, a light.
I started drum lessons with John Hendricks. Hip hop beats, an introduction to Weezer, punk rock. A redefinition of cool, of faith, and a safe place to try.
Creativity unlocked, and celebrated. Laughter. Mentors, like brothers.
Right Right, Left Left, Right Right, Left Left. Repentance. Redemption. Worth.
Jazz band to jam sessions. Somehow a drum solo in front of the entire middle school. My first rock-and-roll performance at the 8th grade dance. Always, always on that snare drum.
Music brought friends. Friends brought video cameras. Access to the first JVC digital video camcorder.
We were blowing stuff up with some very serious homemade explosives. Overloading parents' computers. Moving from one house to the next, as the gigabytes overwhelmed inadequate systems.
Right Left, Left Right, Right Left, Left Right. The winds picked up from there. Confidence.
Rock and roll bands. The guitar. A mission. College.
Bigger, wilder film projects, in increasingly exotic places. A career in creativity.
India, Mozambique, England, Philippines. Haiti, Swaziland, Nepal. From African kingdoms to Everest, they're always surprised I can play their drums.
More and more friends. Better and better. Mentors. Bright possibilities.
So, onward. Bravely and optimistically. Maybe mountain gorillas in Congo later this month.
Right Left Right Right, Left Right Left Left. Adventures. Service. Love.
A voice to the voiceless. A snare drum to a fourth grader. She came to my birthday party that year, too. There's a picture somewhere. I'm sure mine wasn't the only one.
Still a wild, and difficult ride. But when I find myself in the calm of the eye of my hurricane, sometimes I'm reminded of the butterfly God used to start it. How that spark would save me from real destruction. How far away I'd be if she hadn't. If my parents hadn't. If so many others hadn't.
So today, as she retires from 35 years of teaching, I pause in the eye of my hurricane. And I look back to where it started. And I'm so, so grateful.
Thank you, Ms. West. From just one of the roughly 900 students you taught. This fourth grader will never forget that particular time you went above and beyond.
Beat your wings, everybody. And your drums.