When Monsieur Borie told me he was retiring, I was so upset I almost started crying.
A bow maker and repairman, he had taken care of my cello bows for ten years or so. And by taking care of my bows he took care of some of my needs—that is, he took care of me. He was competent and friendly, a big teddy-bear of a guy with a thick beard and a slight stutter, working out of a sun-filled office in a beautiful brick building in central Paris. I’d call him and make an appointment, and when I rang his bell he'd open his door, take my hand, and gently pull me into his office. Then we’d chat briefly, and I’d hand him my bow in complete trust. Two days later I’d go back and pick it up, and the bow would be re-haired perfectly, clean as a whistle, and ready for music.
The bow is an extension of the cellist, a fifth limb, the channel for the cellist’s voice. A good bow makes such a difference to a string player that he or she is prepared to pay huge sums for it. A cellist friend of mine once bought a bow for nearly a hundred thousand dollars. It's worth it.
But this story isn’t about cello bows or even about Monsieur Borie. It’s about The Team, a way of looking at all the people in your life and their role in helping you, challenging you, and connecting you to something bigger than yourself. Monsieur Borie was part of my Team; I was upset at the news of his retirement because, in a word, I loved him and loved having him in my life. He made my life “bigger.” And his departure risked making my life “smaller.”
Each human being is the center of his or her universe. I consider this is a fact—I mean, a technical reality rather than psychological speculation. Your universe is you, plus all your thoughts, emotions, wishes, desires, dreams, and fears, plus everything you do throughout the day, plus all the people you know and deal with: the cobbler who fixes your shoes, your doctor, your colleagues, your family, your Facebook friends, dozens and hundreds and thousands of people, some of whom you spend hours with every day, others whom you see once a year. You’re the only person in the whole world whose life includes this particular group of people; in fact, you’re the one who brings them together, in a sort of dynamic network of direct and indirect relationships.
Your network is your Team. The idea merits attention. The more attentive you're to the Team, the happier and healthier you’ll be. There are several things you can do in practice, but it all starts with how you conceive of it all.
Simply deciding that you’re at the core of a Team has an impact. You can organize your mental concept of the Team, perhaps supposing that the Team is made of loosely drawn concentric circles with you at the center. Sometimes the Team’s concentric circles are labeled “you, your family, your community, the world.” And if this works for you, why not?
I use a more elaborate concept. I like playing with numbers, which I consider to have some sort of energetic power. I’m at the center. Right near me, there are seven Team members currently exercising their beneficial power upon me. A little further away, there are 49 members also looking after me. Yep, 49 is seven times seven, or seven squared, or seven to the power of two. Beyond the 49, there are 343 members (seven cubed), and beyond them there are 2401 (seven etc.!) members, and not far behind there are 16.807 members, and 117.649, and 823.543, and . . . and the whole of humanity. The whole of It, seven to the power of infinite.
And I choose—perhaps arbitrarily and subjectively, perhaps with a method with sacred hidden rules—who to place in my first circle, my second, my third . . .
My closest Team member is my wife Alexis, oh what a great collaborator and friend! And within the first circle I put my piano teacher, friend, elective brother, and student Alexandre; also my friend, former teacher, and elective brother Barney; my GP, the thoughtful and resourceful Dr. S., whose own team includes a gaggle of experienced colleagues in every medical specialty, each and every one of them ready to attend to my needs; Madame St., threshold guardian to the world of dreams, symbols, myths, stories, etymologies, and numbers; Debby, a friend and elective sister; and Ed, a friend and elective brother. I can hardly catalogue all the helpful things these men and women have done for me over the decades. Debby and I go back forty years, to our adolescence in Brazil. Barney and I also go back forty years. He's the guy who helped me leave Brazil to go study music in New York City, and who subsequently showered me with endless immaterial gifts. Ed and I go back twenty-five years. He’s experienced in the ways of the world, astute, and a wonderful listener. He’s younger than me, but since he's smarter, bigger, better-looking, and richer than me I consider him an older brother. And so on with my team members: each an elective brother, sister, cousin, uncle, nephew, or niece.
Meet my Team member and brother, Alexandre. This is where I go for my piano lessons.
Next to my closest Team members there’s a whole bunch of friendly colleagues who cherish my work and who provide me with the means to thrive in New York, Minneapolis, Alaska, Glasgow, Oxford, London, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Melbourne, Sydney, and elsewhere. There are my students, some long-term, others new, all of them motivated and talented, teaching me new things day after day, week after week. There’s my editor at Oxford University Press, the wonderful Suzanne, she of the steel-trap mind. There’s Nicolas, Charles, Jean-charles, everyone at Studio Campus where I like to practice, everyone at Studio Bleu where I also like to practice and perform . . .
On Thursdays and Sundays, my wife and I frequent a street market on the boulevard Richard Lenoir, near our home in central Paris. The stall keepers come from France, but also Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Portugal, Martinique, and all points in between. From them we buy the most delicious fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, olive oil, honey, dips and spreads, eggs, you name it. To be a market seller you need discipline and dedication. Wake up every day at 4 AM, rain or shine; fill the van with heavy boxes and cartons and vats of goods; drive to central Paris, set up your stall, and be there at people’s disposal from 7 AM to 2 PM, serving friends and strangers with the same generous smile.
Everyone at the market belongs to my Team, in varying degrees of intimacy. One of the fruit sellers, Mouhcine, is particularly attentive. He’s been to several of my concerts, often taking exquisite photos.
Well, you got the idea. Everyone a friend and family member, everyone for you—and you, for them. You have no foes, only "friends from the shadows."
Your Team members don’t need to know that you think of them in this manner. Teamship (to coin a word) is implicit in every human interaction anyway; you can make it explicit to your heart only. Or not; perhaps your Team members like being celebrated!
Be attentive to your members. Stay in touch with them, talk to them, let them know you’re thinking of them, attend their concerts and vernissages and parties, send them emails and postcards, buy their fruits and vegetables, hug them if they like being hugged and give them space if they prefer it.
As your Team manager, keep up with the Team tasks—including moving members closer to the core or away from it. Since the whole of humanity belongs in your Team, you can’t really fire anyone. But you can decide to lessen certain bonds when needed.
People retire, move away, pass on to higher spheres. Guess what? Monsieur Ryder, a cherished colleague of Monsieur Borie's, now takes loving care of my bows. He works in an exquisite office in an exquisite neighborhood of the exquisite city of Paris. I make an appointment to see him . . . I ring his bell . . . he opens his door and greets me with a smile . . .
©2017, Pedro de Alcantara