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being different

A few years ago, I was attending a gala luncheon with some alumni from the University where I worked. The conversation turned to music, and several of the alumni laughed about how great it would be if their kids liked classical music. "Well," I added, between forksful of quiche, "when I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to listen to classical music!" There was a dead silence. Then some laughter and giggles. "You're kidding, right?" a woman to my left said. "That's really funny!" chuckled the guy across from me.

"No," I said, putting down my fork, "it's true. I was forbidden to listen to classical music."

Words cannot convey the expressions of incredulity, confusion, or doubts about my sanity that swept across the faces around me.  Yes, it was true. I grew up an only child in a small New Jersey farm community where my dad was a farm hand and my mother a housewife. A smart woman frustrated from lack of a social network, without any creative outlet, my mother directed all her abundant energy into fixations: about neighbors, about my father's interests (he wasn't supposed to have any), and about anything I did, thought, mimicked or said. 

My earliest memories were of playing the piano as a pre-schooler (without lessons) during visits to my father's stepmother. And turning the radio dial when my parents were out of the room until I found a sound that can only be described as symphonic. This early predilection for classical music exploded into a full-blown adolescent obsession just before I turned 13 when I bought a record of Mozart's 40th Symphony for 29 cents during a supermarket promotion.  It took about a half hour for my life to change forever. From the heights of pre-pubescent spiritual ecstasy I was brought crashing down to earth by my mother racing in to my room and shrieking, "Turn that thing off! Don't listen to that! Those are crazy people!" And the screaming, raging war between my mother and me continued until I had the resources to move out on my own.

Throughout my life, I thought that I was different. But now, looking back, I see that my mother was the one who was different. Not the stereotypical mom forcing piano lessons on her recalcitrant offspring. Not the domineering dad dragging junior to the opera or ballet. I grew up in a rogue home where common sense was turned on its head. My mom was way different. And now I'm glad. Her difference made me the person I am today: someone who lives and breathes classical music in every passionate, sensual, haunting, and addictive measure.  How I would love to stir up this enthusiasm in every human breast! Perhaps the best way to do so is to be different. So, you! Over there! Don't you dare listen to that music! It will change your life forever!