One of the things that characterizes human beings is our ability to make symbols and communicate through metaphoric language. We make meaning and see significance in just about everything, even three pieces of chewing gum stuck to a piece of paper in the choir loft, which is what you see in the photo above.
I sing in a choir on Sundays at 11:00 am. Well, I try to sing. We don’t rehearse and I usually show up late, but that’s only because I live two blocks from the parish. I usually start the shower at about quarter of. So, there I was looking at the paper with three gobs of chewing gum, three being significant because of the Trinity, and gum being significant because it’s been a sticky week, when I realized that this was a message from God. I mean, after all, there we were singing Caccini’s Ave Maria (yet again) in the middle of the liturgy in the middle of Advent. How could it not be meaningful? The only question, of course, is what did it mean?
I concluded that there were two definite directions to take regarding a career move that’s been on my mind lately, kind of like Robert Frost’s walk in the woods. Either I must persevere through the obstacles ahead of me, or this was a warning to turn back and choose the other path. Actually, there was a third option in which the three pieces of gum were meant to remind me that all of life is absurd and I should not take myself so seriously. The problem with that (apart from it being the real significance of the gum) is that it was related to option one about persevering through obstacles. Yes, this is what I was thinking about as our music director, clad in Advent purple, rocked out on the organ.
Now, here’s the thing. We make this stuff up. Apart from instances when the hand of God comes down and smacks us in the back of the head, we tend to see what we want, interpret what we want, and act upon that interpretation the way we want. It’s called being human. This means that the gum could have meant anything. If I had surveyed the rest of the choir, I’m sure I would have gotten as many opinions as there are choir members, minus those people who would have just shaken their heads at me.
I asked my class the other day how many believed that things are “meant to be.” I had to encourage them to be truthful. A fair number raised their hands. I think more of them believe in it but were embarrassed to admit it. I don’t know why; truthfully, I am a pussycat in the classroom. Anyway, had the course been in Philosophy rather than Business Ethics, I might have pursued the issue by bringing up obvious problems like the Holocaust, but I didn’t. There are enough case studies in business to deal with.
And then, as if the hand of God really did smack me in the head, I had a Zen moment studying the mosaic of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel above the altar. Here I was in this church at this moment and not anywhere else. Not in previous churches, past jobs, or other locations. I was here, now, and could make a free decision about the gum to the best of my ability with the resources I had at that moment. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt.
And the gum? Its significance is that it happened to be in the right place at the right time in the right way to give me something to think about. So it was a perfectly human interaction. But then I thought, who chews gum in a choir?
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