i still have it. the index card is taped to the inside bottom of my old piano bench down in the basement. these words, “perfection is an eight letter word. p r a c t i c e ” written in eight-year-old pencil-printing. it’s been there – in that old spinet piano bench – since 1967, when i started taking lessons and needed a reminder how to keep the ups and downs in perspective.
i spent long hours on that bench and on the organ bench also in my growing-up living room. what i could hear in my imagination wasn’t necessarily what was showing up on the keys. my sweet poppo would encourage me, “remember, practice makes perfect,” he’d say. i’d add, well, at least practice moves you in that direction.
there’s no guarantee for perfect. there’s no route to it and any expectation that you will achieve it really is for naught. the best you can do is the best you can do – moment by moment. with practice, each best-you-can-do is better than the last. and so on and so on.
it’s the caring that matters.
i have two amazing children who have shown me examples of the pursuit of how to do something, to a point of excellence, that you’ve never done before. the keeping-at-it, toughlove-letting-go-of-judgment, the training, the practice, the trying-failing-rinse-repeat-ness of learning. they approach new things like stoic explorers, adventurers prepared and open to experience.
it’s the very thing that inspired our snowboarding lesson earlier this year – the one where i broke both of my wrists. every time i hear someone say, “eh, i’m too old; i can’t learn that,” i store my emotional response to that statement away in my memory bank, waiting for the day i’m about to say just that so i might pummel the words before they escape my lips.
even though my wrists broke and might never be the same and even though i cannot point to any great accomplishment or success on the slope, i would not take back the experience or the exhilaration and anticipation of learning something new, particularly, in this case, that very thing that would give me the slightest first-hand touch, not merely a window, into my daughter’s professional world.
in post-cast moments many people, aghast, said to me, “what were you thinking? don’t you think there’s a point you are too old for that? remember your age!” i am more aghast at these words than all the months dealing with uncooperative wrists in a livelihood where they really matter.
knowing first-hand how difficult and humbling pure novice-ness is, i hope i can always release the suffocating self-evaluating that goes hand-in-hand with being new at something; i hope that i always care about learning.
at eight i had no idea what piano lessons would mean to my life. i simply wanted – really, really wanted – to learn. i, at 8, didn’t beat myself up over getting it wrong or failing nor did i get self-conscious about my journey of mastery. i just stepped into it. and i cared with all of my eight-year-old heart.
we walk and talk about the day The Girl or The Boy suggest to getting-older-every-day-us that we purchase new technology or download a new app or try a new recipe or consider a new lifestyle or or or …. the day we will want to say, “eh, we’re too old; we can’t learn that.” i look down at my right wrist, which may never bend at a 90 degree angle ever again, and i remember to care.
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