Saturday, August 28, 2010

How a Relationship Made a Quantum-Leap When I Dared to Suck

By Julie Rahm

Jackie has been my bonus daughter (stepdaughter) for over 12 years. I love her so much, yet she may not know how much because we are a bit guarded with each other. For the last 12 months, Jackie has participated in the Practical Nursing program at her local college. About a month before her graduation, she asked me to play the piano for her graduation ceremony. Jackie told me how much it would mean to her if I were part of such an important event in her life. I would only need to play Pomp and Circumstance and some background music during a portion of the ceremony. And, she thought the piano would be in the back of the auditorium.

My heart melted as I reminded Jackie that I had not played the piano publicly since Eighth Grade. She responded that she enjoyed hearing me play and that she thought I played very well. My memory flashed back to how much I enjoyed helping her when she was taking piano lessons eleven years ago. She had asked me so sincerely. In a moment of possibility thinking, I said yes!

Hanging up the phone I realized the countdown started at only 28 days to graduation. I dug through stacks of old music looking for Pomp and Circumstance. Eureka! I found it. However, the arrangement called for eight to ten fingers on the keys at all times. As I began to play, tension grew from my chest outward to my head and toes. Uh oh. What had I done?

For the next 28 days, I practiced during every free moment that I could pull myself away from the demands of business. Over and over I played each section until it was perfect. Each day I built on my work from the previous day. Remembering from childhood recitals that my performances were never as good as my practices, I worked hard to make my living room rehearsals sound magnificent.

As I practiced, I kept my metaphorical tool kit handy. As I made mistakes, my level tilted. I used my metaphorical pliers and plucked out thoughts that I would mess up, ruin the ceremony, and humiliate myself, my husband and Jackie. With my metaphorical utility knife I cut the cord to past times of being nauseous before performing, fearing criticism and rejection, and feeling humiliated. I hammered in the knowledge that playing for the ceremony was not about me. It was about celebrating the graduates and creating something beautiful for all in attendance.

As I arrived for the dress rehearsal the day before the ceremony, I was overcome by emotions when Jackie proudly introduced me to her teachers and classmates as her mom. She had never just called me mom. Feeling drunk with joy, I went to the back of the auditorium to look for the piano. But it was not there. Instead, I found a fabulous grand piano on stage right. I had never played a grand piano and did not even know how to open it properly. Thankfully the operations manager was there to set up the piano for me. Playing on the stage in front of the audience was not what I had envisioned. I needed my tool kit again to pluck out my fears and continue to hammer in the fact that the event was not about me. Through a miracle of God I was able to play. The dress rehearsal went well.

For the ceremony I wore an elegant long black skirt and sparkly long-sleeved black top. If I sucked at least I wanted to look good doing it! Seeing my name in the program with “pianist” behind it was surreal. I have had a lot of titles, but never anything like “pianist”.

An hour before the ceremony began, I warmed up and played through the music perfectly. Ahhhhhh. I sat on the piano bench on the dark stage waiting to begin. As the stage manager brought up the lights, I took a deep breath and lifted my hands. With passion, I hit the keys for the dramatic introduction to Pomp and Circumstance. Instead of the beautiful music that came out an hour earlier, it sounded like something fell on the keys. In my confusion I felt possessed. After a few bars I recovered, finished the introduction and began the familiar part of the piece as the graduates began their procession. Fortunately, the graduates were outside of the auditorium and did not hear those first notes. The rest of my playing went well and was timed perfectly. The ceremony was lovely and meaningful.

Following the ceremony, the graduates gave me a thank you card each one had signed along with a stunning bouquet of yellow roses. Jackie and I hugged, both of us relieved. Being on stage in front of people to receive her certificate was a stretch for Jackie who does not like to be the center of attention.

A few days after graduation, I received a heartfelt handwritten note from Jackie that I may frame. Chills came over my body as I read how grateful she is for our relationship, that she loves me, and how much it meant to her that I was part of her ceremony. She understood what a challenge it was for me and how much I have going on each day.

I wanted my relationship with Jackie to be deeper. So I did something different and dared to suck. With total disregard to my performance anxiety I agreed to do something Jackie asked of me. The unexpected gift was a quantum-leap in our relationship. Now I challenge you to keep your metaphorical tool kit ready and at your first opportunity, dare to suck! And then celebrate the resulting miracles.

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