Seeing the wood for the trees
by Ronni Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To think about gaining perspective and understanding.
Preparation and materials
- This assembly is based on a story that is personal to the writer. You may wish to use it verbatim, or you may prefer to tell your own story on the same theme. Whatever you decide to do, you might choose to play some of the appropriate music at the beginning or end of the assembly.
- Tell the following story or your own version of it:
For most of my life, since I was 18, many years ago, when I went to the Reading festival, I have been a huge fan of a rock band called 'Yes'. They're still going, of course - I saw them at Wembley last summer, and they were at Reading again last year! I've seen them lots of times, and the audience, to a large extent, has aged with them. Now many fans take their young adult children with them, and Yes members may well be grandfathers! But they're a band that tour extensively and give a truly magical live show. The time I want to talk about today is about five years ago, when they were playing the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Yes fans are pretty keen. When the three-night run was announced, we tried to book straightaway, but by the time we got through, the only seats left had what was described as a 'restricted view'. We reckoned that restricted view was better than no view at all, so we took the tickets.
The Royal Albert Hall is oval shaped with a stage across one end - you may have seen it on TV for the Festival of Remembrance, when the poppies come down on the congregation. Our seats were at the stage end, up in the circle, actually sitting behind the front of the stage, so we were looking down behind the front line of singer and guitarists, over the keyboards and their player - a young Russian called Igor - and with a view of the huge packing cases that the lead guitarist's guitars were carried about in.
I've been to lots of concerts, but never appreciated that for most tracks, the guitarist, Steve Howe, has a fresh guitar. The technician tunes up the one that has just been used, and either stacks it carefully in a rack, or places it back in the travelling cases if he's not going to use it again. So for much of the time I was watching this technician while listening to the music - fascinating.
Then they sang a track that I'd used many years ago for a piece of dance. To choreograph a piece of music, for me, involves taking it apart, identifying what each instrument/voice is contributing, and working out how to incorporate that particular thread of music into the dance. So you have to know the track absolutely. As Yes play incredibly complex music, that can be quite a challenge.
So, they began this piece of music. I was watching a complex musical section that Igor was playing and we could see his fingers flying over the keys. As I was just drifting away, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see what was going on.
Over the stalls, down and to my right, white flower petals were falling, like slow and beautiful snow. They dropped onto the fans who were sitting there, and then to the floor underneath the seats. It was a magical moment; the movement of the petals capturing visually the mood of the music.
And I nearly missed it. I had been so engrossed in the music that I might have missed, and been left out of, one of the high points of the concert. A little movement caught my eye, and so I was drawn in to the magic.
- Go on to say that things like this happen all the time. We get caught up in something - an event, a situation - and we can't see beyond it to the bigger picture. There's a row, people get angry at each other. They can't see what led to one person being fed up and cross that day, why they took their anger and frustration out on that person, who happened to rub them up the wrong way because…
Something goes wrong, we blame someone, and they get upset and walk out. We don't realize how much work they'd put in to get that thing just so. When it goes wrong, they hardly needed me to point it out to them. No wonder they went off in a paddy.
Someone's late. You've been waiting for ten minutes for them; but you don't know that on their way to meet you they gave some time to help someone else out… (fill in your own up-to-date school examples here).
- Suggest that we need to learn how to stand back, and count to ten before we speak. To take time, and not just react, but consider and reflect before we condemn or criticize. Someone once said, 'Every time I open my mouth, some fool speaks.'
- End by saying that the person in the story nearly missed the best bit of the concert because she was looking in the wrong direction. Try to become familiar with the idea of looking at situations from more than one perspective - you'll find you have more time for people you don't agree with, for people you find difficult. And then, maybe, they'll have more time for you, too.
Time for reflection
Think about situations where you got it wrong because you didn't know the full story. How could things have been different if you'd held back before you acted?
Help us, God, to think before we act,
to walk a mile in our friend's shoes before we criticize and condemn,
to give people another chance.
'Guess how I feel' (Come and Praise, 89)