"Did you like that kind of life?" she asked.
"We were the best." I replied.
"That wasn't what I asked."
My tenth high school reunion was a few months ago. That four year slice of life has thusly come up in conversation these last few months much more than at other times.
I don't remember how we got onto the subject but I was commenting that our marching band, of which I was a member, practiced more than our football team. We had ninety hours of practice in the two weeks preceding each school year. For the eleven weeks of the season we practiced an hour during each school day, three hours after school each of three days a week. We'd come to school two hours early on Tuesdays and Thursdays for sectionals. Two or three times each fall we'd sacrifice our Saturdays for six or eight hours of practice. The five or six hours devoted to football games each Friday weren't to cheer on the team. They were to get audience experience, to prep for our own contests. In all we averaged more than twenty hours a week preparing for marching competitions.
The two hundred of us in the band thought of little else during those three months of the year. It dominated our free time, our conversations, our dreams. It took every minute of our attention and every ounce of our energy. And, we were very, very good.
"Did you like that kind of life?"
I don't know how to explain such things to her. Did I enjoy each minute, even a majority of minutes, no. Did I enjoy hours on the field in Georgia's driving summer sun, no. Did I enjoy the burning arms and aching back from all that time standing at attention, no. Did I enjoy the plastic lined uniform that made my skin wrinkle from the sweat when it was warm and that offered no insulation against the cold, no. Did I enjoy the sanctimonious repudiation for even the slightest of errors, no. Did I enjoy running laps, rising before dawn and investing over a thousand hours in something that never garnered me a position of leadership, a scholarship or even the respect of the rest of the school, no, certainly not.
What I did enjoy was excellence.
Drum corps and competitive band people are a peculiar breed. Like artists and artisans, they recognize superlative work instantly. When we would be called to attention in the presence of other bands and the clean, clear, full chorus of two hundred voices called "Uhn" in perfect unison, cutting the night air like a shot, you could feel the jaws drop. When our company front turned fore and our horns went to the box, when the flash of halogen lights was reflected from a hundred polished horns, when concrete stadiums vibrated with the force of our combined energy we could see our opposition biting their lips and shuffling their feet. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the absolute and abject awe of my peers.
I enjoyed being there the first year that we swept our season, placing first in every single competition we entered. I enjoyed competing on the national level the following year. I enjoyed traveling half way around the world to demonstrate our skills. I enjoyed being a champion. More than all that, I enjoyed being part of something larger than myself. I enjoyed contributing to something beyond what I, as an individual, could accomplish. I enjoyed belonging to an organization that could say, without reservation, that we were among the best.
Did the grand total of ten or fifteen hours of joy and victory make up for the thousand of misery and labor? I don't know, I suppose they must, since I look back on those days proudly and fondly. Would I do it again, certainly not, but I would also not be the person that I am had I not.
"Did you like that kind of life?"
No, not really. That's not the point. If you only do what you like from moment to moment or from day to day, you're not likely to have much to be proud of.