I remember admiring my outfit in my vanity mirror as I twirled around my room, preparing for the big day. I had meticulously selected what has since been labeled the tackiest dress imaginable. Crushed velvet and Mary Jane’s would be accessorized with perfectly placed curls and my clarinet. It was the day of my sixth grade Christmas recital, and I was filled with the zeal of a young musician who could produce a faintly recognizable version of “Deck the Halls”.
My mom kneeled down and told me how proud she was of me, as she examined my badly creased music and amateur makeup. It was only weeks ago that I had come home with tearful eyes, begging her to let me quit band. My teacher was a stern man, with high expectations and little compassion for young ladies who didn’t attend practice because their favorite television show was on. Mom reminded me that I had made a commitment. She took my hand as we sat at the kitchen table and said “You can lay out of practice, but you can’t lay out of life.” Mom always had a way of making everything and everyone around her better. Against my better 11-year-old judgment, I decided to stick with band for a little longer.
As we arrived at the school auditorium, multitudes of doting parents poured in, hoping to grab the best seats in the house. Mom kissed my forehead and told me she loved me as I scurried backstage to await introduction. The program was comprised largely of the high school band, but a special spotlight segment would showcase my young group. I could feel the nervous excitement building as I awaited my debut. After what seemed like ages, my band director gave us the cue. I confidently made my way across the stage. The moment was everything I imagined. I now understood why people wanted to be on the stage. It was exhilarating! I drank in the moment and even looked out in the crowd. It was then that my beautiful shoes, the ones I had so painstakingly chosen, betrayed me. My ankle twisted and suddenly, I felt myself lose balance. I struggled to correct myself, but it was too late. I fell. Hard. With regard to the fall itself, I can only hope that I played my clarinet as well as I fell that evening. It was later revealed that velocity of the event sent my music folder flying into the audience. A group of sympathetic parents scurried to collect the loose leaf downpour. A collective gasp could be heard from the (quite large) audience.
As I examined my current situation, I found myself lying on the stage, my humiliation matched only by the shooting pain in my ankle. My band director rushed to my side and helped me to my feet. He whispered in my ear, asking if I was ok. I nodded my head, as I couldn’t find my voice and looked up at him, as to ask for some kind of direction. He whispered in my ear “I know you want to run away. And no one would blame you if you did. But what you do right now today will stay with you for the rest of your life.” I took a moment to briefly consider the notion, and then I looked out into the audience. I saw my mom mouth the words “I love you.” At that moment, something in my middle-school psyche decided to that it was time to grow up. I secured my now loose shoe and hobbled to my seat and bowed. The audience erupted with applause. I choked back salty tears as I played every note of those Christmas carols. Dozens of parents congratulated me that night.
The resounding lesson of that night stuck with me for years after that night. After briefly considering the idea of locking myself in my room for all eternity, I realized that I would not, in fact, die of embarrassment. Music became an integral part of my life. I attended honor bands and played in symphonies, all the while facing competition, rejection, and fear. But I always continued. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a music scholarship, and I attended college to become a music teacher. Along the way, my mom was my biggest cheerleader, always encouraging me to be the best I could be. When things got hard or a late night practice session was the last thing I wanted to do, mom reminded me of my commitment and how “laying out” wasn’t an option. I reached my highest goals with her by my side.
One morning, during my senior year of college, I got a phone call. My mom had passed away unexpectedly. My world was shattered. I immediately went home to be with my family and friends. They comforted me and reminded me what a wonderful person I was lucky enough to have as a mom. We laid her to rest among beautiful yellow roses where she had always wanted, beside her father. During my time at home, I decided that I would not return to college. The emotional burden was too much to bear. I informed my brothers of my decision, and though they understood, they both expressed their desire for me to reconsider.
After the funeral, we sorted through Mom’s possessions. Decades of memories manifested in boxes that went on for days. Though it was painful, I was thankful that my mother had enjoyed so many strong relationships in her lifetime. Box by box, we divided things, until I began rummaging through the last heap. Among some old photos and drawings, I found a small album. In the back was an old piece of paper, yellowed with time. The date was December of 2000. It was the program from my first concert.
I returned to college the next week. After all, you can’t lay out of life.