Cherokee Kid

Jim Alberty is a member of the Bird Clan of the Cherokee Tribe of Oklahoma. Born in Claremore, OK he now lives in Maine, working as a composer, writer and Creative for Apple. He is active in the Casco Bay area arts and education communities as a composer, musician, social dancer and actor.

Mirrors In Stone


 The dream started after a night of fitful sleep - tossed, turned, the comforter shed, pillows crammed against the wall, air conditioner turned off, turned on, turned back off.

Grey light hiding behind the blinds at least a full hour before the alarm called me up to go to work.

Suddenly it was cool again and dark, stone walls arched overhead into far space. The enclosed area was so large you could hear something most people never ever sensed - the sheer sound of a great room, the pressure of a great span of air against your ears.

The Bishop - elderly, taller than I, sharp-nosed, silver glasses more perched on his nose than aiding his eyes - asked me if I was ready, if everything was ready.

Beside him the Verger rocked back and forth from her heels to her toes, a slow ecclesiastical dance in the tempo of a great hymn, "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" perhaps.

"This has to  be right" she interjected, "I'm trusting you to be ready," Her job was organizing pageantry in the Cathedral. She knew all the requirements of the sincere if mystical theatre of religious ceremony.

The job would be simple: conduct one of my own a capella anthems during a great celebration in the Cathedral, the kind of feast day that regularly occurs in a great spiritual space, a feast that had continued in regular order, sustaining the spirits of a thousand people for seemingly a thousand years.

I nodded, bowed my retreat and headed out into the bright sunshine to the small cell that doubled as my study. I was a guest of the Cathedral living in the "Stranger's" Quarters, writing and helping carry the spiritual traditions of the great space forward.

I knew I should be practicing, preparing to start my music, a simple anthem that needed only a four note chord to start - but the touch on the keyboard had to be sure, there could be no time to repeat it, no second chances to recover the flow of the service.

Somehow I couldn't bring myself to practice. It wasn't trusting to luck, it was the certain feeling that I was unprepared but that somehow it would be OK just to try.

And so as sunset approached .... as moonrise began ..... I took my place at the back of the choir stalls, next to the great pipe organ, a small but very talented group of singers ready to perform my notes, a dark space pushing against my ears, thousands of people wrapped together in the deep sense of common feeling and purpose.

The keyboard and the stops around them - small white knobs that controlled the passages of air into a forest of tuned pipes - became a forest of thorns, a frightening tangle of choices, a wall locking me away from all contact with the people around me. I was alone, bereft, lost in the middle of a thousand people.

And so I froze. Below I saw the Verger's glare, saw her robes billow out as she rushed up from the ambulatory floor to catch my attention.

I walked out. I chose to leave rather than face them all.

I knew I was alone. Totally alone, locked away from the people I wanted to love and be loved by most. They were all so accomplished, people who had read and studied and thought and written and corrected and spent their days learning their way through the challenges of life and work.

Running through the vaults of the Cathedral I raced past the skulls and bones of scholars and spiritual leaders who had spent their lives improving their ability to be themselves. I had nothing to give because I had done nothing.

Suddenly I was stopped by the Bishop, still in his robes from the Celebration. Beside him the Verger, dark, black-eyed behind thick glasses, glaring at me, her black ebony rod firmly gripped but resting lightly against her robes.

I fell to my knees, sobbing, hot tears of shame coating my face, begging the Bishop to kill me then as punishment for the crime of being me.

The Verger, I knew, was raising her rod, preparing to strike.

Yet the Bishop looked me dead in the eye - I though he was smiling but I couldn't really tell - he looked me in the eye and held up a golden mirror ....

..... and then I woke.

Tears were still soaking my face. An instant later the alarm went off. I was dizzy, sick, unsure of where I was for a moment, unsure even what day it was.

The mirror. The view of myself. Knowing it was my hand that held me back. That I was so afraid, so afraid of being alone that I'd do anything to separate myself from people in order not to fail to connect - to lose myself in order to save myself.

This fugue built quickly - voice adding the theme to voice, each adding to the texture and carrying the music forward.

It was more important to be me, to lead and if others were willing to follow - or not - then that's what happened. I had no control of it.

There was too much music to write, dances to do, things to see - too much inside of me that had to get out.

I will never be like others and the drive to be so, to make myself safe from others by being like them was doomed to failure. And that was killing me.

So many things I should have done, choices to not work, practice, connect, love - all it trying to keep me safe not from others but from myself.

The song, discordant but effective, is over. A new song begins.

You take what the world gives you and you make art.

And life.

(Photos of St. John the Divine c. 2011 Jim Alberty)