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The Power of Sustain

Updated: Jan 18, 2019

My mom went into emergency surgery recently. I don’t live close to home anymore. And so I was getting information in texts, mostly. I was grateful for this, but the brevity often ready something like: “Emergency surgery. Life-threatening.” At least, that’s how it distilled down in my mind.

And then yesterday, there was the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I’m on the other end of the continent. My kids are safe. And this hit me like a two-ton heavy thing.

Both these frightening events took place during the Christmas season, when happiness and good will are typically in greater abundance. And they both got me thinking about: sustain. Here’s why.

When traumatic things happen, people rally. They pull together. They invest themselves. They declare. They make decisions. All good things. My quiet worry? That after the emotion and good intention of those initial responses are gone, the very right and needful follow-through will go missing.

Some of this is just life. It moves on. We’re all facing our personal, private demons, hardships, challenges. In practical terms, there may be little one can do. That’s for each of us to decide. But it’s the difference between the noble sentiment, “I’d die for you,” and the slightly trite, but no less true response, “Yes, but would you live for me?”

Staying in for the long haul, whether it’s sitting at a bedside, clearing tubes that are draining away body fluids, or becoming the involved parent or citizen you need to be if you mean to affect change . . . that’s the man or woman I respect. It’s the kind of guy I want to be.

There’s a saying that goes something like: Character is the ability to carry on with a worthwhile decision after the emotion of making the decision is passed. I like that.

And y’know, those are the heroes we don’t hear about. The ones laboring in obscurity in the constant service of others. Don’t get me wrong. Running into a burning building is right brave. And we have fine examples of those folks. I wonder now, though, if they aren’t the same ones who are committing silent acts of heroism all the time. Living that way, even when no one is watching.

I’m really not trying to soap-box this. Kind of writing it out, is all. But I think about that little community of Newtown and those families. For the world, this tragedy will pass. There’ll be new headlines to chatter about on social networks. Our own holiday celebrations will go forward. And those aren’t bad things. That’s the flow of life. But the effects will be profound for a smaller set of people, whose tables have empty chairs today. And I don’t want that to not cause some change in me. I’m still trying to put definition to that feeling, but I’m holding on to it until I figure it out.

See, because I think there’s power in sustain. The real kind.

In my day job, we ship product all the time. Relatively speaking, that’s the easy part. What we don’t always do well is sustain our support for those products. “Launch and leave” it’s often called. Always another product to launch. In that world, we call those new products the “shiny penny.” Everyone wants to be associated with the next thing. It’s not terribly sexy to work on generating awareness for a product that’s already out there. We lose sight of the fact that just because we’ve been living and breathing a thing for a year or more, that the rest of the world has no idea. Not really. In point of fact, the real work, the important work, comes after a thing is available. Marketing and PR people fail to understand this so often that it’s mind boggling.

And how about music. While there’s great use and effect in staccato notes,  when you hold a note, letting it ring out . . . it does something inside both the performer and the listener. There’s power in it. The chance for harmonies and resonances to play against that single sustaining sound. It suggests endurance and strength and settles into your bosom. Yes bosom. You see, music requires the words of poetry to be understood.

Anyway, the next time you attend a concert and one of the musician’s holds out a note, you’ll maybe now notice the audience when they begin to cheer. It’s like a rallying cry, really. A cool kind.

Even Christmas has a play here. Don’t we think every year: “Hey, why can’t we make this Christmas thing last?” Many of you who read this will be athiest; but even my athiest friends agree that for whatever reason at this time of year: people hold more doors for others when entering buildings, they give more liberally of their substance, they find more patience. Take a moment and listen to this:

Why can’t we sustain that? Wouldn’t we agree there’d be power if we could? Real power.

I’m going to go ahead and say that love is the underpinning for sustain. It’s the best motivation I can think of. I didn’t know those children who died in Connecticut, but I understand the love a parent has for their child. And I’m going to do my damndest not to lapse into solipsism; by which I mean, I love my mom, and there are simple ways for me to share and sustain that, even in the midst of my overwhelmingly busy life.

These are notes I wish to play, that I intend to sustain. Because I will resent myself if I go entirely awash again in trivialities and don’t allow these things to change me, at least a little, for the good.


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