A little off center but getting closer
The other day I telephoned John Huling to catch up on a few things. John and his wife, Joni, live in Vermont, so we don’t get to see each other much.
I first met John maybe 25 years ago, when he and Joni were traveling through the Southwest and happened into the trading post.
As I often do with our first-time customers, I asked where they were from and what they did for a living.
John said he had composed music for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is one of my favorite places in all the world, so we immediately bonded. When he gave me copies of his music, we became fast friends.
A few years after our initial meeting, John offered to play a flute concert at Twin Rocks. The event was a great success, and many people later told me the evening was one of the most enjoyable concerts they had ever attended.
During the early stages of our friendship, John determined to teach me the Native American flute. “It’s easy; anyone can do it,” he assured me.
I figured if the whales make music, I probably could, too. After an hour of instruction, however, John and I both realized I had no affinity for it, and that I was both tone deaf and musically dumb.
Since that time, John has studiously avoided trying to expand my harmonic horizons.
During our telephone conversation, I mentioned I had recently spoken with Kay Harris. Kay makes exceptionally well-crafted flutes, and it was John who brought us together.
I had been wanting to carry flutes in the trading post, but could not find the quality I desired. John used Kay’s flutes in many of his recordings, so he gave me Kay’s telephone number, and I made the call.
Once we met, I quickly realized Kay is the kind of individual you grow immediately fond of. Having spent the majority of his life outdoors in the American Southwest, the environment has worn away all his rough edges.
What remains in a gentle man who is as comfortable as an old saddle blanket. Kay and I often talk about the troubled kids he takes on river expeditions, cattle drives, the simple and elegant pine caskets he builds and his flutes.
Kay’s trademark, which is on all his instruments, is an offset circle within a circle.
He says the wood of the instrument represents our world, the solid silver disk symbolizes the individual flute player and his or her journey from earth to sky.
The metallic disk also represents Kay’s hope that before we reach the afterlife, we will find harmony that moves us closer to the center.
John told me he once asked Kay to make a flute with a perfectly centered circle. Kay declined, however, saying he could not because he had personally known only two cases where that type of perfection had been attained. Each instance involved a painful loss.
After Kay left the store, I thought about my own life and how Kay’s offset circle metaphor fit my circumstances.
My journey toward the center has consistently and frustratingly followed an erratic and generally unpredictable path. Quite often I feel I am not only uncentered, but also unhinged; that, rather than moving closer to the hub, I am actually gravitating farther away.
There are times, however, when Jana and the kids are in my heart, and I feel the center may be near.
I often remember an interview I saw many years ago. During that segment, Rob Reiner said, “In my life I have had about ten minutes of happiness; not all at once of course, but one minute here, 30 seconds there....”
At the time, I thought Reiner was merely being sarcastic. I later came to believe he was talking about the complete contentment Kay attributes to his fully centered circles.
Although those moments of absolute centering may not last long, they are unforgettable. They are love in its most basic element: love of self, love of others and love of one’s environment. It is only love that truly centers us.
Kay’s visit reminded me how far I must travel to reach the center, but also how far I have already journeyed.
Kay might agree the adventure is in the undertaking, that we must keep striving and keep loving. The center may be closer than we think.