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Bringing the Drum to Bethlehem, 2009

     There is a song about a light in the sky above Bethlehem, and a baby born in a manger.  The light draws people from far and wide, to celebrate an emergence from darkness, the birth of salvation, the dawn of a new age.  In their hearts, the people recognized that this child, however full of potential, needed them, and whatever they had to offer. And that neither the light nor the child were, in and of themselves, the solution.  Together they were a beacon, requesting the attention and participation of humankind to create for themselves the structures  and bastions of a new world.  
    Though the journey was long and arduous, the roads stony, and the paths crossed with thorns, they came.  The kings came, offering wealth, and ‘networking’ with influential leaders of the day.  The scholars came, offering knowledge gained and wisdom received.  The shepherds and farmers came, offering their love of the earth, and the secrets of sustainability.  And also, came a drummer.  The drummer had no wealth, no pertinent knowledge of political and social events, no understanding of life sustaining technology.  The drummer had only the drum, and the willingness to  make the journey.  
    In the presence of such a crowd, however, it occurred to him that his gift would be too little, too insignificant.  What more could he bring to such a monumental event?  Surely the wealth and political savvy of the kings, the wisdom of the scholars and the abilities of the providers of food would be enough to catalyze the human industry necessary to facilitate the growth of peace and prosperity in this new era.  But he was next in line, and so, he played.  The baby smiled at him.  That’s it.  Just a smile.  And for the drummer, full of doubt, but with the right mix of humility and  integrity to offer whatever he could, it was enough.  
    Bethlehem.  Jerusalem.  Israel and Palestine.  We hear or read those words almost every day if we are at all media-conscious.  For me, they represented a place in conflict, far away, where dramatic, often disturbing events made the headlines of major newspapers on a regular basis and lead off the nightly news with chattering intensity.  I knew some of the history of the place, and had a vague understanding of the underlying causes of the seemingly endless and ferociously complicated web of regional difficulties.  Yet, in spite of the fact that the shifting winds of Israel and Palestine are contributing heavily to the shape of the world in which we live, I had only registered the tempest along the periphery of my global vision.
    And then, last summer, I was drawn to a light way out on that horizon.  A group called Artsbridge uses art as a medium and has created a dialog model that has been effective in facilitating communication between groups of young Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews who share a well lubricated, long standing fear of one another.  A mutual friend thought our programs might be highly compatible. I’m not a king, a scholar or a farmer.  I’m a drummer.  And yes, when I announced my intention to bring a load of drums and my programming, in collaboration with Artsbridge, to Israel and Palestine, I endured the witicisms of my friends.  The Little Drummer Boy allusion was just too much to resist.
     As the founder and director of Rhythm of Life I’ve been sharing the joys and challenges of ensemble drumming with a wide spectrum of groups for almost thirty years.  I work with the very young, the not so young, teens, people with disabilities, children on the autism spectrum, people with Parkinson’s and other neurological issues, prison inmates, and children experiencing homelessness. I’ve designed programming that uses the medium of drumming to address issues like substance abuse, anger management, long term illness,  teen angst, chronic low self esteem and depression.  Sometimes I even drum with people who aren’t experiencing any particular difficulties beyond the range of broken shoe laces and heavy mortgage payments, simply because it’s fun, inspirational, educational, uplifting and exciting.  I love what I do, I’ve been doing it a while, and I’m pretty good at it.
    And then there I was.  Israel and Palestine.  No longer at the periphery of my vision, but right there, all around me, whizzing by me and all too often, looming over me.  Little drummer boy is right.  
    Walls.  Towers.  Razor wire.  Guns.  Violence.  Fear.  And...
    Flowers.  Smiles.  Cardamum.  Humor. Humous.  Prayer. Hope.
So what have I got that can make a difference in this maelstrom of conflict and chaos, hope and longing? Surely the wealth and political savvy of the kings, the wisdom of the scholars and the abilities of the providers of food will be enough to catalyze the  human industry necessary to facilitate the growth of peace and prosperity in this new era.  But I was next in line, so I played.  And the kids played with me.  We had a blast!  Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslims, one very confused Island-sheltered drummer boy... we played together.  And we talked.  We talked about our lives, our hopes, our fears and our dreams.  It turns out that at the bottom of it all, we just want to get along.  
    I played with young people all over Israel and Palestine.  I could taste the disputation in the wind, but I could smell the aroma of a new ideal.  Most of the people I met, though perhaps brimming with differences of opinion on every topic from settlements to soccer teams, spoke of a longing for resolution.  “Peace” might be too big a word, right now, but the air is charged with the certainty that there is a better way to deal with a very real, very complex, challenging conflict.  I met with community leaders in Israel Proper and in the Palestinian Territories, and we agreed that our hopes are pinned on bringing up a generation of young leaders who fear each other less, or not at all, and who are willing and able to really communicate with each other.  
      There is a light on the horizon, and we have begun our journey towards it, though the journey will be long and arduous, the roads stony, and the paths crossed with thorns.  I will return to traverse those roads, for I have gained some of the wisdom of the farmers, and the scholars, and even some of the wealth of the kings (although I need some more of that), and I have learned that sustainability and consistency are key in such undertakings.  Three weeks ago my journey to Bethlehem was not over stony roads, but through long concrete corridors of a checkpoint at a gate in the sixty foot wall that surrounds this city.  In other parts of Israel and Palestine, I had been able to cart a load of drums around with me, but here I carried only a canvas bag full of drum sticks and one small drum, because no one could assure us that I’d be able to get the drums past security.  In Bethlehem one night some time ago, a young family made due in a manger.  In Bethlehem, 2009, we played raucous and splendid rhythms on chairs and trash cans.  And the children smiled at me.  And for that moment, it was enough.

Rick Bausman