Just Please Give a Damn

Last night I attended the Prince William County 4H Variety Show, an interminable three hours that showcased the various talents of local youngsters. It went on forever — and ever. I was tired from work and commuting, and if I am honest about it, well, the last thing I wanted to do on a cold and dreary Friday night was sit inside an elementary school auditorium and watch a bunch of kids I didn’t know.

Ugh. Call me a bad Dad. Except that a funny thing happened on my way to Pout Town: I actually enjoyed almost every minute, even beyond the five minutes my daughter was on stage as part of her group’s comedy skit. That was great — she did a wonderful job in her acting debut — but what I enjoyed most was the chance to watch a steady progression of young people trudge up to the stage with hope on their faces, to do something they clearly worked very hard to master. There was much love in that room, most of it between child and skill. From the little guy who opened the show wearing a cockeyed captain’s hat and banging a drum with one stick to the steady stream of teenagers performing their own compositions and singing their hearts out, the event gradually gave shape to the passion that drives hours of sacrifice and the making of calluses.

Ah — but it’s not sacrifice when you love it. Is it?
Passion on display like that is something special to behold, before life and the realities of living get in the way. Thanks to the way the show was organized, it was easy to see how that little boy — utterly lost on stage with only a slight clue about when to bang that drum — would grow up to master his craft. If he has the chutzpah, he stands a chance of being just like the young lady who closed the show, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the stage, making percussion out of tapping a cup and using her voice to drive the melody of her song. The audience? Pressure? Nerves? Nah. She may as well have been in her living room, as oblivious as she was. It was clearly just her, the mike and a plastic cup she used to make that song.

Amazing.

Sure, I live in a small town. And maybe the west coast sophistication I once possessed has washed off over the years. But after a long night of acts, in front of restless kids and tired parents jangling car keys and itching to bolt, this girl sang her song and didn’t really seem to give a crap about the time, the noise or the competition. That’s talent, sure, but more than that it reveals a love for something, a deep caring about something so simple that we often overlook it. She just loved making music. It didn’t really matter if she made a mistake, wasn’t loud enough or got the beats wrong. What mattered was that she gave a damn about it.

Simple. Give a damn. Care about that thing you do, and invest your time into being good at it. Love something. I want my daughters to feel that. I don’t even really care what it is. I just want them to love something enough to throw themselves, their hearts and minds and motivation into doing it. To care whether what they see in their mind is what they create on the canvas of their choosing. Maybe it’s a sport, a craft, or a field of study. I know enough to know that’s it’s not business, another person or even a God. It has to come from them. From the inside.

I wish I knew how to start them on that crazy and solitary journey without reprising the role of classic overbearing parent. In typical form I am probably over thinking it. But it seems to me that what matters most of all is what was on that stage last night in its rawest form, that thing that is simple and free and beautiful. Just give a damn about something. Please. There’s plenty of life to make a living, girls. Make a life about what you do, get lost in the doing of it, and be that thing that makes your heart sing.

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