I’ve written a post before about my church and how much I love it. In fact, my church had me read that post in front of God and everybody as part of their stewardship campaign. Obviously I had to clean up the language, because, well, Jesus. Personally, I don’t think Jesus has anything against a well-placed swear word, as long as it’s not directed at anybody he loves (which is EVERYONE) but I get how dropping the F-bomb in the sanctuary could disturb the peace.
What I haven’t really harped on is how, perhaps because we are in Nashville, or perhaps because we are just lucky, we have a ridiculous amount of musical talent in our church. Not only is the majority of our congregation musically adept, but we also have an overflowing handful of full-on music professionals. The pastor’s wife plays in the symphony, as do several congregants. A National Fiddler Hall of Fame player who’s collaborated with everyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Steven Tyler regularly plays on Sundays, looking for all the world like just a normal guy.
What I’m saying here is that THE BAR IS HIGH.
Oh yeah, I also might have failed to mention that I’m a piano teacher. Remember that later.
Since our church is big on full congregant participation, Mike and I get tapped occasionally to play an offertory or some such thing. Now, because I’m I don’t know,
smart a bit shy, I usually decline. Mike, however, is always willing to help. He favors non-traditional songs: Indigo Girls, Pete Seeger, your standard social justice workhorses. Yesterday it was Cat Stevens.
Let me fill you in a bit.
Way, WAY back in the day, Mike convinced me to marry him by talking about cooperative multi-genre arts education programs, by pouring red wine, and by showing me movies that I’d never heard of that made me cry nonetheless. Movies like Harold and Maude, which, if YOU haven’t seen, you need to go take in right now.
Alright, now, if you’ve watched it, you know it’s a strangely beautiful story about living life to the fullest. It touched my twenty-one-year-old self so much that I had “Maude loves Harold” inscribed on the inside of Mike’s wedding ring. The soundtrack is Cat Stevens all the way.
Day before yesterday, Mike says he’s playing “Don’t Be Shy” from Cat Stevens in church and asks if I’ll do the piano part. I look over the music and realize for the first time that the lyrics are completely inane. The whole song has about fifteen words in it. Fifteen words. Over and over. But Mike tells me how it’s from Harold and Maude and don’t I remember that movie and don’t I think love and freedom from fear are worthwhile things to talk about in church and the next thing I know I’m working out this quick eighth note run with a lot of black notes after a glass of wine and saying, “Ok, honey. Of course. Fine. Yes I do. Yes I will. Absolutely. And also my glass is empty.”
So Sunday morning we get up to play the offertory. I sit at the piano and Mike stands at the microphone and thanks his lovely wife for agreeing to play such a ridiculously simple piano line just so he can sound better and…
I BLOW IT.
Two notes in and I’m looking at the piano like “What is this strange instrument, and what is the meaning of all these black and white things?”
I’m not talking about a missed note. I’m talking about full-on middle-school nightmare train wreck. FOR THREE MINUTES. Three minutes may seem short, but believe me, they last an entire lifetime when there are two hundred people sitting silently before you.
I hobbled back to our pew so embarrassed I looked sunburned.
My thirteen-year-old looked over at me, wide-eyed. “Oh my God!” She mouthed.
I apologized to Mike, who apologized to me (for what I’m not even sure) and I said, “Well, there goes piano teaching. Perhaps my writing career will take off.”
I wanted to run.
I wanted to pretend I needed to pee and sneak out of our pew and then out the back of the church and never, ever, come back. I was mortified and I couldn’t imagine listening to well-meaning congregants thanking me for playing. I was embarrassed that people might feel obligated to lie.
I sat there in the pew (my daughter giving me the side-eye the whole time) and talked myself out of bolting. I told myself that God loved me anyway and wasn’t that good enough? (No) I told myself that I had FIVE kids and so, if my husband ever left me I was already going to spend the rest of my life alone no matter how well I played piano so there was no need to impress anyone. I told myself that maybe God loved me an extra-special amount and had, perhaps, struck everyone deaf before we played. I nearly choked on my Communion bread while telling myself so much.
Finally, I realized that if I left I wouldn’t get a chance to talk to all the people I’d come to see. I wouldn’t get to hug Julie, or Bruce, or Dieta. I wouldn’t get to find out how people’s cancer treatments, or job searches, or pregnancies were going. I wouldn’t get to participate in church at all. Because church for me isn’t about the sermon, or the readings or even the music. It’s about loving on people and letting them love on you. Even when they say, “Great job!” and you think, “I’m going to pray for your ears.”
Also, I thought about my kids, the snarky, wiggling kids sitting beside me that would surely endure (as I have) many such moments of humiliation, because, well, they’re human. I imagined them sitting in a therapist’s office decades from now talking about how their mom ran, sobbing, from the church one Sunday after a spectacular musical disaster.
I decided to give them a different story to tell.
I stayed. I hugged the people I could find. When they congratulated me I tried my best to be gracious, or at least funny. I remembered that my husband had done well despite me and the stupid lyrics. I remembered that it actually wasn’t all about me.
Shocking, I know.
But when we are embarrassed or humiliated, or feeling small in any way it can feel like the entire world is looking at us and laughing and pointing their fingers.
But they aren’t.
For the most part, people are way too concerned with their own families (side-eyed and all), their own bosses, their own diagnosis to spend more than a couple seconds thinking about our short-fallings. We’re all just hoping for someone who sees us, someone who hugs us, someone who loves us, regardless of whether we know the difference between the black notes and the white notes.
Yesterday was humbling. It’s been a long time since I felt so raw and vulnerable. But yesterday was also beautiful. I hugged a lot of friends; I heard a lot of news. My son told me I was, “Not that bad.”