Month: May 2016

Greater than any number

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
By Margo Page

As soon as I heard of Lexie Mountain’s plan to break the world record for the longest game of telephone at The Walter’s Art Museum, I was psyched. It sounded silly and fun, and according to the flyer art, would give me an excuse to dress like another animal. But mostly, it was exciting to me because it’s not every day that someone is daring enough to do something so outside of the norm. Few people are brave enough to set a quantitative goal publicly because everyone will know if you don’t reach it, and failure is associated with embarrassment and pity. But in some cases, failing is not a reflection of effort or capability, but instead it’s an indicator that you put yourself out there and attempted something that was truly challenging. And in the process of trying to achieve a truly challenging goal, something entirely different and unexpected might be achieved instead. When it was 12pm and we only had about 400 of the 1331 people we would need to break the record, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to make it unless Lexie’s call out to the baseball team was answered. It was then that I wondered, well if we’re not going to break the record, why does this still feel so important?

Was it because in our individualistic, competitive society, we all have an underlying desire to work collectively with strangers to reach a common goal? Was it because we talked with people we wouldn’t have met otherwise, like Lexie’s mom, Deb, who is super kind, interesting, and has a soul as deep as the ocean? Did it feel special because in today’s fast-paced world, people were taking some time out of their day to have fun as a community? Was it because we were helping someone else reach their goal, not for credit or to feel like a hero, because we weren’t doing anything besides being just a number? A goal that might even sound arbitrary to us, but was clearly important to them. Being there not because we totally understood why, but just because they asked? I think all of these were true for many of us, but it still wasn’t the whole picture.

As one of the volunteers, I was walking around, talking to the people waiting in line, and someone made a joke to me that struck me as super strange. I realized that most of us probably had very little in common. Except that for some reason, all of us – kids and the elderly, people from disparate cultures and parts of the world, belted khaki wearers and people with homemade tee-shirts weaving together references to the telephone game and the song “hotline bling” – were standing on a red line of tape, waiting. None of us had ever participated in a longest game of telephone, social art performance before. But we were doing it, despite feeling a mixture of vague confusion and silliness. I’m sure many people felt a slight awkwardness being next to strangers doing this slightly confusing and silly thing. It was unconventional, this line of people, meandering throughout the sacred territory of an art museum, playing a children’s game. But there we were – 504 of us, standing genuinely open, hopeful, and patient like curious soldiers, without a full understanding of what the importance of this was, or whether it was even important at all. I was asked a lot of questions, like, What number have we reached? When will it start? How long will it take for the message to get to me? Will we break the record? Do you know what kind of message it is? But no one had any of those answers. So there we all waited in relative uncertainty, without answers, without knowing what the outcome would be, just entertaining ourselves. Isn’t that life?

The event was silly and absurd, like the sentence I heard, “Seeing the mount of a goat boat,” and the final sentence, “There is a nurse elite called Eringe Juice.” It was also insightful, like the starting sentence Lexie chose by Hafiz, “What we speak becomes the house we live in.” It was also heartfelt. It was also beautiful. Life doesn’t separate our emotions and hand them to us on separate, labeled platters. Life opens all of our emotions, sometimes all at once. We were inspired, surprised, and touched by the experience, even though we might not be entirely sure of why or how. It emphasized many morals in a palpable way. Let’s be patient, it will eventually be our turn. Let’s accept the unknown, it will always exist. Let’s be gentle and kind to each other, we’re all in the same boat (a goat boat?). Let’s look around, because we might be standing right next to an amazing person, or an incredible, timeless work of art. Let’s enjoy our wait, because that end goal we’re hoping for might never be met, and the only thing that we can be sure of having is this very moment.