If you were in the audience when Israeli bassist Omer Avital and his quintet performed in October, you’ll know what I mean when I say there was magic in that room. They delivered a blazing concert of original music, dizzying in its range and pyrotechnical skill. But they shared something else too, something long-lasting and transformative.
Omer is a world-class performer, virtuosic and expressive. But he’s also an impish child with a boundless imagination for tricks and schemes, and it’s a mesmerizing to watch him lock in with his drummer, then dance around his bass to trade phrases with his pianist. He’s completely absorbed, like a kid building a castle out of blocks, and he loves what he’s doing—he grins, he sings, he laughs. His musicians play their hearts out, all of them working at the top of their skills and energy to bring a collective dream into our shared sensory world. The intricate rhythms, the sonic contours—they’re an invitation to all of us to come in and play too.
I found the music thrilling, but here’s the thing I’m mulling on: I grinned through the whole evening, because Omer is unabashedly joyful, and joy (like its first cousin, laughter) is infectious.
I was buoyed up for days after that concert, and given the gloom-and-doom diet of our 24-hour news cycle, that’s no mean feat. There’s a lot to worry about: climate and environmental degradation, the smouldering peat fire of racial and sexual violence, abhorrent living conditions for First Nations peoples, unhealthy stress levels in our youth, plus the endless run of personal stuff—work, family, health, household. In the aftermath of that concert, I was more aware of what it means to be alive, to have great friends and beloved family and a rich, challenging work life. I can see and touch and hear and think. I have the privilege of being here on this beleaguered planet, and I honour that privilege by entering the struggle and remembering to laugh along the way.
We “human merely beings,” as e.e. cummings labeled our species, are vulnerable to emotional contagion. It’s hard to watch someone laugh without laughing yourself, a burst of anger calls up heat in return. Research is showing that young babies map emotional lives through mirroring their caregivers’ faces—feeling alongside others is part of our design. How we capitalize on that emotional connectedness is about outlook, discipline, and habits of mind. When the fear-storm over niqabs and barbaric cultural practices swept across the country, this anonymous lawn sign popped up on Facebook: “I don’t fear my neighbours. They made me samosas.”
I overheard someone observe recently that it seems more socially acceptable to complain and criticize, and for that reason, he’s making a point of speaking about people he admires. That’s a discipline I’m going to adopt. Why not do everything we can to bolster these fragile castles we are building out of dreams? Why not choose to aspire?
I’m no Pollyanna, but surely there are far-reaching benefits to being suffused with positive energy. Hope fuels bigger dreams and more determination. It creates a better attitude, greater courage, more willingness to be open with others. As we turn up the final pages on this year’s calendar, let’s do what we can for one another. Let’s build our castles, then invite one another in to play.