Sunday, September 6, 2009

Courage of a Sort

There are a many different examples of courage. Obvious ones like a fireman rushing into a burning building to save the inhabitants or a soldier protecting his comrades by putting himself in harm's way. The word "courage" evokes the picture of the young Chinese man standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square. I picture a schoolboy standing up to bullies or a young woman holding true to her beliefs against the onslaught of a cynical college professor. Wearing spandex.
I heard the absolutely best definition of courage by an elder at my church. He said, "Courage is the perfect balance between fear and recklessness". Think about it. We are apt to say that the opposite of fear is courage. But to not have any fear would encourage us to remove all the inhibitors and that could easily lead to recklessness - like those insane "extreme sport" guys who do quadruple flips on a motorcycle going 65 miles an hour and then, after the inevitable crash, looking slightly bemused, they pop their bones back into place and go again. Reck-less (dare I say, idiotic).
No, courage is doing a thing when you are truly afraid along with a measure of common sense thrown in to somehow keep you grounded and convinced that it's going to be all right.
I witnessed courage of a completely different sort this past weekend at our CAT auditions for our fall production of Annie Warbucks. "Auditions": the very word can cause your throat to tighten up, your heart to beat so fast you are certain it's going to push through your chest and bounce away and your knees to wobble to the point that you are certain that your legs will no longer hold you up and you are going to dissolve into a puddle of blubbering plasma. Not a pretty picture. For some people, just the thought of getting up in front a room full of strangers (or even friends) and singing is enough to induce a hurling response that would match the sort incurred when consuming a tuna and mayo sandwich that was left in the sun for 3 hours. (That's not a pretty picture either).
Last Friday night I watched 80 + kids get up in front of an auditioning panel and a roomful of parents and friends to sing their hearts out. They ran the gamut from laughable (with our responses hidden with monumental efforts behind a mask of tight smiles) to astonishment ("How did that incredible voice come out of that tiny body?") to pure mesmerizing joy: WOW!
Watching one child after the next pop out of their chair to stand in front of the panel of artistic team members to say, "My name is Susie Smith, I am 9 years old and I'll be singing, 'Part of Your World" today" or "Hi, my name is Jack Jones and I'm 8, I'm gonna sing 'Zippity Do Dah'" was amazing. Now I have been doing this for over 10 years and I can guarantee that it still holds tremendous entertainment value, palpable suspense and mystery, and pure, unadulterated courage. I love it.
It makes me wonder, though. At what point do kids lose that courage? I hear the parents every time talk about how they could no more get up and sing like their child just did than do brain surgery. Why? Why is it that an 8 year can screw up their courage and sing but that child's parent would rather pull out their fingernails than do the same?
It's one of those mysteries but I suspect that CAT is helping those kids, one audition at a time prepare themselves for adulthood. It's one of the intangibles that come with performance arts education. When these kids grow up and are confronted with a Job interview, a sales presentation, the management conference, they will, I fully believe, jump out of their seats and say, "Hi, my name is Susie Smith and here's what I have to offer your company...."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Last First Day

Earlier this week Isaac, my youngest, went back to school. He is a senior in high school this year. I realized as I dropped him off that this was the last "first day" of school I would experience with my boys. Whoa. My last first day. Now this doesn't seem even remotely possible especially with Isaac. You see, Isaac was born 2 weeks before his next oldest brother, Andrew, started kindergarten. When he was born and I was looking at five more years with another little guy at home before he even started school, I remember asking myself, "When am I ever going to experience going to the bathroom without someone walking in on me again?" But those five years flew by and suddenly the day arrived for Isaac to start kindergarten. It was a day I will never forget but not for the reason you might expect. I took Isaac to his classroom at Lincoln Alternative School just like all three of his older brothers and we walked around until we found his desk: A little gingerbread man name tag was waiting for him along with a new box of crayons, a pair of blunt-tipped scissors and 2 new, unsharpened pencils. Once Isaac was settled into his spot I started looking at the other children and parents in the room. The little girl right next to Isaac had her big sister with her and the sister was tenderly and sweetly consoling the child, encouraging her that everything would be fine and she will truly love kindergarten. I turned to away to glance at the scene around me. The same "happy", "mad" and "sad" teddy bear faces decorating the walls, the animal alphabet pictures all across the top of the chalkboard, the storybook shelf and paint easels all neatly set up just like like it was when Isaac's brothers were kindergarteners there. In the middle of the room there were lots of video cameras recording and cameras snapping. A few children were sort of whimpering, some were actually sobbing and others were already launched into high gear complete with shrieks and giggles. There were lots of even younger children and babies bumping into adult legs and chairs which was then followed by their immediate, inconsolable tears -in other words, it was mass hysteria. About this time I noticed how peculiar it was that so many of the children had been brought to school on this momentous first day by their older siblings: teenage brothers and sisters instead of their parents. I was really struck by this odd turn of events.

Even though this was my fourth child to begin kindergarten, I wouldn't have missed this day for anything.

Slowly the light of reality dawned on my thick skull and I began to feel really weird: like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs. All these youngsters I'd mistaken as older siblings were these kids' parents!!! I was still reeling from the shock of this realization when a girl came over to me (1 swear she could not have been old enough to vote) and introduced herself, "Hi, I'm Tiffany and this is, like, my daughter, Haley. Are you, like, her teacher?"

I pointed to Isaac and said, "Oh no, this is my son and he is starting school today too."

The look on Tiffany's face was priceless. Talk about the turn of the knife. I could just hear her saying to herself, "Poor child, he probably will be visiting his mother in the convalescent home about the time he starts college."

Now here it is, 13 years later and Isaac has reached his last year of high school (Wouldn't Tiffany be surprised that I'm actually still alive?) and I am filled this incredible bittersweetness that mothers have experienced for centuries. That moment of reality that this part of my life is quickly drawing to a close. I still make Isaac's school lunch every day and put it in a brown sack with his name and a smiley face drawn on it. When I was making four lunches every day, and helping with four different kinds of school projects (You know, a diarama, book report, science project and spelling test all due on the same day) I remember thinking, "I am not going to survive this". Not only did I survive, I thrived in it. I loved it.

I know there are still many, many "firsts' waiting for me in my life. I'm just getting started in some regards. Oh, but the "lasts" are hard to take. There will be many of these this year with Isaac. So I'm going to acknowledge them and celebrate them and then move on, looking for all those new "firsts" that I just know God has waiting for me to experience.