the cummerbund

So many of the wisest people I know are also some of the most well-read. I’ve been thankful for their influence — and their consistent sharing that books are a great teacher. One of those books that contained some eye-opening concepts to me years ago is John Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted.” In it he coins a term oft repeated here: “impression management.” It’s the whole idea of: “what will people think?”

The pondering of that thought then influences what we do, what we wear, what we drive, who we engage with, what we say, and what we say on social media.

Imagine being freed from all that external influence…

Last week it was the end-of-year concert for my high school sons — my senior, in his final performance with his faithful friends, who have sang and danced and done life together these past several years — and my freshman, for whom every performance is a lesson in gratitude for us both, being always aware of how his so-called special needs never deter him from the stage; it just makes me thankful (… usually makes me cry a little, too…).

Let me be profoundly transparent…

School concerts are a wonderful, wonderful thing. I love seeing my children — and your children — up on that center stage. But school concerts, for years, have been a quiet, incredibly major source of stress for me. You see, concerts require a very specific attire: dress pants, dress shirts, dress shoes, etc. I get it; those boys and girls should look the part. But let me share that finding dress pants for a shorter, heavier adolescent is not easy. In fact, many of our past concert evenings found this simply-attempting-to-survive parent quietly crying in the afternoon. It was hard to find the clothes… it was hard to look right… it’s sometimes very difficult to fit in.

When he got to high school, they provided the individually-measured attire (yes, sheeewwwww…). And while maybe his tux was a tad out of proportion, the uniform relieved much of my previous stress. Josh put the pants and the shirt on at home; he put on the coat, bow tie, and cummerbund at school.

Let’s just say, cummerbunds aren’t typical wear for our family. Such was, shall we say, rather noticeable at the March concert, when Josh’s cummerbund showed up in the middle of his chest, a good 6-8” above his belt line. Understand that the tuxedo is a very handsome black; the cummerbund and bow tie are a very visible orange.

So for last week’s last concert, we had a bit of an intentional discussion beforehand. “Remember that the cummerbund goes here (motion to the belt line). It does not go here (horizontal motion to the center of his chest).”

Sure enough. Up comes the curtain, final concert of the year, Josh is his typical joyful self, proudly standing there, second row, right in the center, visible to all, and here is his bright orange cummerbund, smack dab in the middle of his chest once again. [Insert audible sigh here.]

What can I do? Nothing. But after song #1 of a three song set, the director promptly left his podium, walked up to the students, right toward Josh, and corrected the misplaced cummerbund. All eyes were on him. Even with a sweet, strong, beautiful relationship between director and student, it had every potential for embarrassment.

But not for Josh.

Josh gently raised his arms, allowed the director to adjust the necessary apparel, and then noticing that he was the center of attention for an unplanned moment, as Mr. Miller started walking away, Josh gave a quick shrug, an immediate smile, and then a fast, contagious dab. Yes, Josh dabbed. The crowd clapped and chuckled, embracing the joy young master Josh genuinely felt.

I have long thought that Josh does many things better than me. In fact, I would argue that sometimes, intelligence gets in the way for the rest of us. It causes us to miss some of the finer moments, be willing to sacrifice relationship, be embarrassed, and makes us far too conscious of impression management.

Josh simply doesn’t care. So often, he is wiser than me. He is a great teacher.