A rewind moment… Ostensibly a kid, and I’m about to take that long walk to the piano, not my piano but the one in the little concert hall where a recital is being held. Every year I’d go through the same thing, sitting there in an inner sweat, rehearsing my piece in my head, dressed to the nines in my best dress and my T-strap shoes. I’d be almost the last to play or the last, sitting there… Learning how to wait under stressful situations. And then my name would be called, I’d walk to the piano listening to the click of those fancy leather shoes in that hall…. I’d sit down in front of the keys, poise myself, breathe in quietly, and I’d play. It would be a blur of tone as my fingers traveled the keys… Each year a longer more complicated and elegant piece of music. I’d play it the way I rehearsed it with notes, tempo, dynamics all exactly the way it went on my mother’s piano at home for weeks on end. At last it would be over, the guests would applaud politely and I’d return to my seat and think, “Done for another year!”
I thought it was a terrible experience that took a lot of courage for me to get up in front of these people and play. To my friends and family the afore said would sound nuts because over the course of my life I have performed and been a guest speaker many many times. But in the beginning, I found it miserable to have to memorize that music, perfectly play it in front of the people I most respected and not make any mistakes. I really did not like the experience of performing, I did it because I was expected to do it. And, I did it well in spite of myself.
Then things changed. It changed because of one thing. It was Spring and this student of Mrs. Sieber was traveling down that same miserable road, waiting her turn to play her piano piece at yet another recital. I was known as one of the oldest students with a long track record of playing very well, while inwardly I still did not enjoy playing in front of an audience. I expected to sit for an hour waiting my turn, play, and leave. And that familiarity was getting my through it better each year. I took that familiar walk to the keyboard, sat down and composed myself, placed fingers over the keys, paused one more time, then began to play my six or so memorized pages of music with three themes. I knew it well. And yet… And then… Something new happened… Something not so good… Something worse than controlling my nervousness and rolling to the end for another year. To this day I have no answer for why I blanked out for a moment. And, when I came out of that moment I had no idea where I was in the piece. I got worried. Hell, I got paniced! Then I did the worst thing ever. I stopped playing. And in that panic, I reached for my music on the bench beside me, and started again. I was still in a state of panic… I couldn’t even read the notes! Still, somehow I continued amid numerous mistakes; stumbling onward (as if I were playing it for the first time) and then came the final chord.
You could have heard a pin drop in that silence. My music rattled when I took it from the music stand… I thought to myself, “Never EVER in my life have I performed so badly.” There was applause in the somewhere distance sounding like pity to a completely humiliated young lady as she walked up the center aisle, straight out the door of the recital hall and out to the car. There, alone in her own solace, she slouched down on the back seat and cried her eyes out. Then at home I went into my room and I’m not even sure I emerged for dinner.
When the day of my lesson arrived it was a trip to hell as far as I was concerned. I did NOT want to go. My mother made me go. (For my mother, it must have been a very long drive as her daughter riveted the interior of the car with rebellious anger and personal pain. Right now, I’m thinking back, knowing how awful my silence can be for others, yet she stayed tough and walked me into my lesson.) I greeted my teacher in a feeling of shame mixed with horror, I walked to the piano to play my lessons so I could get the heck out again. Mrs. Sieber stopped me before I could play. She made me look at her… Not an easy task that day… And then she said, “The toughest thing to do is to face our mistakes. We have to face them though, Carolyn, because mistakes have the ability to teach us to be strong. That strength comes when we not only face our pain but finish the task that causes the pain. You did that. You finished the piece. And because you did that, you’re stronger than you were and better than you were. Let the pain go and keep the strength that you’ve found.”
Thankfully I have a good memory for peoples’ words for I’ve needed to remember Mrs. Seiber’s words many times since then. The situations have all been different yet it always comes down to hitting the finish line, while sucking it up to find courage. From her words came this mantra: “It’s not the mistakes you make, but what you do about about them that matters!” The first step is often the toughest… That decision to carry on in the face of fear. We look for our purpose and direction so we can zero in on the finish. Everything around us becomes a part of that forward movement. We can become intense as we double down the effort. We can feel shame, that’s the part to which we say good-bye. We replace that with resolve. We… FINISH!
And when we do, we finish not for glory but for growth within ourselves. We trade off the loss of a race while we do not lose heart. People who face unemployment know this very well. Interview after interview for whatever reason, hearing “Sorry, no. But thanks” may knock them to their knees for the moment… By the time they hit the door, it’s suck yourself back up and do it again until he/she knows that a paycheck is coming. The may even think that having a paycheck is the big win, when in reality the growth of soul and self was always the goal meant to be achieved.
Courage makes us face the fact that while the world functions on dollar signs, we must function above that. Life is made of lessons to be learned and achievements to be made. Courage calls for faith in more than ourselves (God, if you will) and letting go of the small stuff to take those forward steps which cause us all to become better men and women. Go forward. Keep going. And if we fall down or get thrown, get up and go again. Finish.
May we all see that courage daily is a series of that… Saddle up and ride!
Carolyn Thomas Temple