The Common Good

Herbie Hancock on Striking the Wrong Chord

In the midst of matching mentors to new interns a couple of weeks ago at Sojourners, I came to an uncomfortable realization. We become mentors at the very point in our lives when we are preoccupied with mid-life questions. Even if we're not in crisis (vocational, financial, family, or other), we're busy with self-examination, maybe even self-doubt and cynicism, about our work and worth.

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During Sojourners' chapel this same week, in the customary time of response to the message, our comments focused on the difference between belief in Jesus and following Jesus. This theme was echoed in a subsequent conversation with a new intern when she explained that one thing she seeks in her year of voluntary service is to learn who Jesus is. Knowing is the first step to following, a process not so far from mid-life introspection.

Into these ruminations, as so often happens, came insight from an unlikely source: a PBS News Hour story on September 16 about Herbie Hancock's 70th birthday release and tour, The Imagine Project. Worthwhile for a number of reasons, this segment by Art Beat journalist Jeffrey Brown includes Hancock telling the story of an early life lesson from a concert with Miles Davis. Hancock hit the "completely wrong chord" during one of Davis's solos, but Davis took a breath and kept playing. "Miles's notes made my chord right," says Hancock. "He didn't hear [the chord] as wrong." The lesson? "Take what happens and try to make it work," says Hancock.

At 70 years old, in mid-life, or during a year of service, we all need a little jazz wisdom: We'll occasionally hit the wrong chords. Take what happens and try to make it work. Knowing Jesus, the notes will resound.

Karen Lattea is chief administrative officer of Sojourners.

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