Second Chair

Yesterday I was able to take a moment and breathe during the service at church.   Dr. Valerie Sterk, Sunnyvale Presbyterian’s organist, is beyond phenomenal.  I’ve told Matt what I want for Christmas….Valerie playing me to sleep each night.  Live.  I’m sure he’s wrapping up that present as we speak.  Each month when we take communion, Valerie plays a stream of beauty on the piano.  Hymns, but with new arrangements.  One of my favorites, Be Thou My Vision (#303 in the old Presbyterian hymnal….yes, I’m a dork and still remember memorizing it!), was so distinctly played.  It unfolded over me like smooth, calming water.

It brought me back to piano lessons.  I started early on and despite deep, internal fears, made it through recitals and practicing into my high school years.  It was a love/hate relationship, but I now know, twenty years later, the many benefits that that discipline had.  I have always dabbled in many different pursuits, not being one to go too deep.  Maybe an unconscious fear of failure?  Or maybe just my nature and personality to want to try out lots of possibilities?  Either way, my foundation in piano paved the way for guitar, handbells, clarinet, choir and singing and a love for music.

 Yes, the guitar pic with my dear friend, Becky, even made our senior pictures!  CHEEEEEEEEEEEZY.

Dance wove its wave into my weekly life too {notice I didn’t say “daily life”…I wasn’t THAT committed!}.  I did ballet for many years, as well as Scottish Highland dancing.

My stint in ’85 as a tree for the end-of-the-year production…

Before a competition for Scottish Dancing in 1983 with my friend, Laurie Gilfeather.

{yes, I know, cute perm, huh?}

For me, both of these arenas, music and dance, and later student government and leadership in high school, were a total mishmash of emotions.  Each featured opportunities for frustration.  For embarrassment.  For exhaustion.  For sore lips, fingers, legs and mind.  Opportunities for growth, perseverance and community abounded too.  And those are the moments I still take with me today.  We went on trips for band.  I have NO recollection of where we specifically played, what music was on our stands, but boy, do I remember the tuxedo outfits we had to wear and the antics of the overnight trips.

Tracey and David (who also happened to be my neighbors) on a trip to Abbotsford, Canada.  Grover, my dear sleeping companion until marriage, came along, obviously.  And many times, Grover was subjected to the crazy schemes of my friends.

It’s the moments of late nights, bonding conversations, shared embarrassment over costumes and uniforms, and helping each other with pitch, harmony and guitar chord fingerings that are stuck deep in my memory.

Often something else lay beneath the surface, though.  The memory of position.  The memories of second chair.  The memories of making mistakes at the recital.  Remembrances of being Vice President.  Showing leadership, and yet, always a rung down.  In band it was so obvious.  It was clear who was first.  Who was the best, most skilled, consistent and talented.  We SAT, day after day, in position.  A visual reminder.

There was never a moment to breathe and take in the gift of being first.  Another opportunity for shuffling, re-positioning, and movement was always around the next bend.  So, the anecdote to fear?  Practice.  Lessons.  Pushing.

I have talked here before about the amazing book, The Blessing of  a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.  The premise being that failure, mistakes, basically, being second, isn’t a bad thing for children.  It builds up resilience, independence and drive.  The ability to get up, try again, knowing you CAN make it through something tough.  That being said, I still remember being second chair.  Feel red faced.  Knowing I always would come home with the 2nd or 3rd place ribbon at the  Scottish Games and dance competitions.  Instead of feeling proud of my hard work and placing at all, I often felt like I just never quite “made” it.

Now that I have children of my own, I start asking myself so many questions again.  What do I encourage and push my own children to pursue?  Saturday soccer leagues?  Music lessons?  An art class?  Do I create an insane, unmanageable schedule by putting too much on the list?  Or is the enrichment and growth offered worth it?  And how to discuss and work through comparison…..I am starting to hear echoes of that coming out of my eldest’s mouth.  I want him to discern and observe and discuss.  The California State Standards even REQUIRE kids to do so, “Students will analyze, assess, and derive meaning from works of art, including their own, according to the elements of art, the principles of design, and aesthetic qualities.”  Part of that comparison is meant to be.  It pushes us to do better.  Be better.  Perform better.  But, the balance.  Where is the balance?

I don’t harbor resentment towards friends who placed above me, who out-shown my shoddy skills.  That was just the reality.  Maybe they practiced more.  Maybe it was just a natural gift for them.  Maybe their rear ends didn’t stick out as much as mine {you think I jest, but seriously, I can still hear my mom, who was also my dance teacher, telling me to tuck in my bottom!}.  Who knows, but rationally, I know those experiences, exhilarating, hilarious, memorable and tough combined to make me who I am today.  The fear creeps in as I wonder how my own kids will reflect on this in twenty years.  How do we, as parents, simultaneously push and pull our kids back?  To encourage and motivate but also soothe their sadness and anger over performance?  How to protect their sensitive hearts and foster resilience?

It is a balance.  And I am reminded day in and day out that the only way to hopefully strike the right balance is to remember WHO I am depending on when I start to tip and get fearful and confused.  Who is in the boat with Matt and I, providing the stability and companionship?  Who is truly in control?  When we start to struggle with and grasp that piece, the reality that no amount of practice, list making, performing, jockeying, costuming, or trophies secure peace….well, then that’s when the stabilizer of the boat, the Calm Presence in the middle of the storms and questions, reminds us that we are enough.  Enough even when you only get to second chair, despite the practice and effort.  Enough and more.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

~Mark 4

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