Whistling--A Life Plan

My dad taught me to whistle. I've recently become aware of this. I don't think he taught me how to whistle; I would hope that I taught myself that, since the mechanics of whistling are simple: as Lauren Bacall put it, "You just put your lips together . . . and blow."

But the bliss of whistling -- that I learned from my dad. He whistles a lot. Like, all the time. And, like, everywhere. Walking through a store. Walking through the neighborhood. Stepping into the pews at church. Sitting down for dinner at home. He whistles while driving, while reading, while waiting around for the next thing to happen. He's a whistler. And so am I.

I started to become aware that I had inherited my dad's whistling disposition when I got the eponymous first album by "newgrass" band Nickel Creek. The trio that made up the band played their respective instruments with the speed of youth and the acumen of veterans. And I whistled right along with them. I whistled the melody; I whistled the harmony. I whistled the fiddle part; I whistled the mandolin part. And I did it all from the comfort of my desk at work.

Imagine how that must have annoyed my neighbors. I got made fun of a fair bit, and I know that I deserved it. I'm pretty confident, however, that as annoying as I was, no one stayed annoyed at me. Whistling is too innocent, too blissful, to resent for long. Plus, there's no denying I'm good at it. Anyway, I kept doing it --not out of conviction but out of habit.

Something happens to you, I think, when you make a habit of whistling. It lightens the load of life, I think. It's hard to nurse grudges while you're whistling. It's hard to dwell on some slight, to fret over some mistake. It's hard to stay angry or stay panicked. Whistling takes you out of time and drills you down deep into a particular moment. If you're whistling, chances are you're in the zone.

Or maybe you're desperately trying to get in the zone. "Whistling in the dark" is what we call putting on a brave face; ironically, it's roughly equivalent to keeping a stiff upper lip, a state that is hardly conducive to whistling. Whistling somehow, mystically, shores up our resolve, emboldens us in the face of danger. We distract ourselves by whistling in order to do what we might not otherwise want or feel able to do. If you find yourself whistling, chances are you're in the thick of it.

My dad taught me to whistle not out of fear but out of serenity. He didn't set out to do so; he just whistled everywhere he went, and he gave off a sense of serenity in the process. The message kind of stuck with me, and the habit embedded itself in me. And now, the older I get, the more I get it: life is no match for a person who whistles.

You think you're a good whistler? Put your lips together and blow through this one -- "The Lighthouse's Tale" by Nickel Creek.


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