There is something you must know about me. I hate math. And math hates me. I hate numbers. They confuse me. The only numbers I understand are the number of shoes I own, and that gives me great comfort. Otherwise, numbers give me great agita. So when my drum teacher sat me down, very excited about teaching me a new song that has both 4/4 time and 7/8 time, I tried really hard not to throw a chair or my drum sticks at him.
So instead I threw glares at him, because I love him and am allergic to restraining orders and assault charges. He explained what 4/4 and 7/8 time meant, and I made him explain it again. And again. And again. And again. He told me not to think about this as math, that it’s not math. They’re not fractions even though they look like fractions. It’s about counting.
And this is when I got pissed, and uncomfortable. What do you mean you can have two different time signatures in one song? How can you just shift tempos in one song? And what is this 7/8 business? This 7 beats in a measure business? I told him I needed a minute.
See, up until now, my drumming world was in 4/4 time. Those were the parameters and rules and expectations and shoulds of my world. I knew what to expect. I knew how it sounded. I knew how to count it. I knew what to do and when to do it in a 4/4 world. This, this 7/8 business, shook my world. I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or how it sounds in the end.
Life continues to provide opportunities to learn, continues to provide gentle reminders. I need to be reminded that I like having parameters, expectations, shoulds; and that just because I like something, doesn’t make it a reality. I grew up thinking the world is one way. And in that one way, everything fit neatly into compartments, boxes. And each of these compartments had clear operating rules. You go to school, work hard, get a good job, and live a comfortable life. You date, you get married, it’s hard, but everything works out in the end because happily ever after. You get the picture. Every box had a formula, standard operating procedures, and a clear story ending. That was my understanding of life.
Until I started living my life. I dated. I got married. I had two kids. It was hard. I got divorced. Wait a second. That was not supposed to happen. Let me tell you, that shook my world off its axis. That made me realize everything I ever understood about life was not true. The expectations, the shoulds, the formula, none of that was true. I didn’t know what to expect anymore. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t know what to think or want anymore. I didn’t know how to be anymore. I needed a minute. Or two. Or five years. I had to make sense of what no longer made sense. And in this, I learned there are no shoulds or expectations. There is only doing the next right thing, gently, kindly, graciously.
And then I fell off the trapeze and hit my head. I work in a biomedical research field. My career has been submersed in research findings, data, evidence-based best practices. We have a hypothesis, we gather data and discover things and new understandings, we publish papers about it all, we tell others, we provide treatment based on this knowledge. Except each specialist over three and a half years swears by a different theory and diagnosis, and thus a different treatment plan. And each of these specialists can provide research and data supporting this theoretical framework, diagnosis, and treatment. Wait, how is this possible it seems like no one knows what they’re talking about, or that everyone knows what they’re talking about but no ONE person is right? How is anyone supposed to get better? How am I supposed to get better? I needed a minute. Or two. Or three and a half years. I had to sit with the reality that no one really knows anything definitively, and that our knowledge and understanding of something, of everything, shifts through time and additional data points. Science may be written in sturdy textbooks, but it’s not written in stone. And so I learned there is no one right answer, and that I needed to choose what felt right in that moment in time.
And so I’m learning that a song can have more than one time signature, in fact it can have many. Tempos change, it feels odd, it feels like there are stops and starts. And as a whole, it sounds beautiful, interesting, and just the way it should. Learning how to play it can feel awkward, difficult, even painful. Learning to really live can feel awkward, difficult, even painful. But in the end, it’s just the way it should be–both music and life–and it’s beautiful and interesting. There is no one end, there’s just the next right thing. The understanding of our realities shift through time. Timing is everything.