One of my close friends died this past year, Elgin Wells, a noted Atlanta musician.
We grew up next to each other on a lake in East Point, both of our dads worked for Delta Airlines. Elgin was a good bit older and went to a private school, what is now called Woodward Academy. He went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Elgin may be the most talented person I’ve ever met, a superb musician on multiple instruments, a fine vocalist, and he even built his own electric violin, just to play the haunting Icarus, by Paul Winter. He performed all over Atlanta, notably a jazz club at the top of the CNN building called Max’s. He was a favorite at Ray’s on the River, overlooking the famed Chattahoochee.
I would often take dates to go hear him, and he would dutifully make time to come over on his break and chat up the young unsuspecting woman, playing up my street cred with her, even asking if I would sit in during the next set. It was a Southside freeze-out that I loved to play.
Elgin introduced me to jazz, notably Horace Silver through Song For My Father, which can still bring me to tears. George Benson’s jazz guitar, Quincy Jones’ soulful writing, Paul Desmond, Trane and Miles, just to name a few. He was part of my education and was a patient prof..
He died this year practicing for an air show in China. Elgin and I had talked prior to shipping his aerobatic plane to China about his excitement for the show….he loved to fly, particularly the demanding aerobatic maneuvers that pressed the limits of precision. We also talked of his love of teaching music to hungry students, like the ones to came to my friend, Eddie Owens’ Red Clay Foundry in Duluth. He was so gifted and felt a calling to pass it on, and he did with enthusiasm and boundless support. I am particularly missing him on this gloomy day, listening to some plaintive Trane.
Elgin’s band was called Extravaganza, which tipped his hand to his deep need to entertain. He was going to “bring it” every time he took to the stage. He usually had a great supporting cast, sometimes with Doc Samuels, a killer bassist, Professor Bennie Goss on keys, and the tastiest drummer, Jimmy Jackson. An amazing constellation of talent, I always wondered why they did not go further up the entertainment chain. Now, I think I know.
Elgin had a signature way of introducing a needed break for the band’s performance. He would say, with that winsome smile of his that I am seeing as I write, “Time to take a pause for the cause!”. And then, they would take five, or ten, or fifteen, depending on the crowd. But then they would get right back to work, bringing their magic in order to trip the light fantastic.
A pause for the cause. I am trying to do a bit of that after Christmas. It’s what I normally do this time of year. Between the craziness of tag-teaming family Christmas gatherings and the festive beginning of a New Year, I take Elgin’s lead and make a pause for the cause.
For me, it takes the form of a full 24 hour period when I review the year, the goals achieved and the misses. I prefer to do it in solitude which forces my focus and puts distractions aside. I try to look with honesty at the goals I set a year ago, assess my progress, and note my own failures, asking a pressing “why”.
The review is important as it brings a self reflection that I value highly. But I value the planning for the new year even more. I write down the major goals I have for the coming year, adding the specifics, the timelines, and metrics by which to measure my progress. What will it look like if I am successful? And, what is the cost of failure?
I also assess my balance. Where am I overly functioning in my life, and where might I be under-investing my time and energy? I do this work with others that I coach in running healthcare systems, serving as ministers and priests, doing business, and leading organizations. To be honest with oneself is problematic, particularly when you suffer with the illusion that you are, indeed, courageously honest. It requires the “third eye” of another who I will use to review my own review, to keep this dealer honest. And so, my coach will visit the work of my “pause” to insure I am not just kidding myself.
I will take a pause to assess my relationships, namely, my family. How am I doing with my spouse; how am I supporting her growth, or inhibiting it.? What goals does she have, what dreams, what fears? I had some good time with both of my children at Christmas on the island and did some thinking as to how my role has changed. What do they need in this particular time in their development? What about my other relationships: my brother, my fabulous sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my close friends, my colleagues, the people I coach, guide, and support? I will discuss all these with an old therapist friend who has observed my trajectory of self through time to check my course.
Finally, I will assess my personal mission statement which makes explicit the values that I intend to live out in my existence. I love having a mission statement that I keep in front of me every day, beginning when I wake and reviewed before I sleep. I find this helps me stay on True North even when pressures and busyness lurk. And for this review at the end of the year, I visit my spiritual director who asks the tough questions of my soul’s healthiness, a spiritual proctoscopic examination, sans the tranquilizers. It always grants me a sense of being clean as I begin afresh in a New Year.
And so, I encourage you to take your own pause for the cause. Mine takes place usually at a Trappist monastery, in my cabin in the Cherokee woods, just to be suggestive of the spiritual dimensions I am pressing against. But it has happened on a cross country flight, in a Marriott hotel room, even in my own study. The place is not as crucial as the time dedicated. Make the time for your SELF.
Take a Pause for the Cause…which is you.