It’s just a small coal, really

I had a student perform in a concerto competition yesterday; he took third place.

He sent me an email later in the day expressing that he was somewhat satisfied with his performance, but was having a really hard time with not having won.

Without getting into unnecessary and tangential details about preparation, and competitions; and not having sat in on every other performance, I wrote back something like this:

One should never enter a competition expecting to win. All you can do is go in and do your best, or at least whatever version of your best is available to you at that particular moment. Everything else is out of your hands, and therefore not worth thinking about. Ten people could play fabulously and the judge still has to pick one.

And I clicked send, and I went to brush my teeth and get ready for bed, and I realized

[bam, mind blown]

that this statement is actually about everything.

And I realized that I have actually always done my best, or at least whatever version of my best had been available to me at that particular moment. And sometimes it was enough, and sometimes it wasn’t, but that part of it Didn’t. Actually. Have. Anything. To. Do. With. Me.

And then I went to bed, and kept thinking that I wasn’t really sleeping, but realized in the morning that I must have been, because I dreamed that this discovery [when the world seemed to stop for a moment, like Dorianne Laux putting gas in her car in the rain] led to a transformation, and when I woke up in the morning I was actually a different person. I looked different — tall, blonde, thin (Freud would have a field day with this one) — had a different name. Same husband, same children (Freud, again), but I. Was. Different.

I woke up this morning, and am, as you probably expect, still me. Except I think I’ve finally forgiven myself for everything that wasn’t my fault.

I looked in the mirror a couple of times today. [Still] not tall, [still] not blonde, [still] not thin.

But definitely different.

*From Courage, by Ann Sexton

It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing….


*This discovery may or may not have had to do with the fact that yesterday I watched To The Bone. A fabulous, beautiful, powerful movie about people struggling with anorexia. The poem above was read in the movie.

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