I'm suddenly eleven years old, perched on a walnut piano bench, loose wrists and bent fingers, playing Chopin's Waltz in A Minor. Mom calls from the kitchen, "It sounds good, Karen."
But in my heart, I don't believe it sounds good.
I pick apart notes and scribble fingering. I fudge through measures, botch the meter, and forget sharps.
I am learning. And learning doesn't sound good.
In learning we pick apart.
We bang our heads against the wall.
We pound keys.
We second guess.
We think to quit.
We sometimes cry.
We wonder if we will ever learn. And will it always be this hard?
Who can sit down at the piano keys and play Chopin the first time?
Even with talent, even with potential, even with conscious choice, who is excellent without practice?
Perhaps the best thing we can do when we see someone learning is to affirm them. Because learning is process, and learning is time, and learning is messy, and learning is our expectations smashed up against reality.
My mom was the breath of encouragement as I learned. This is what moms do. We watch our kids before our eyes take shape and form and settle into who they are. We anguish over their choices and how we might coach them. And we encourage--in process, unraveling, practicing, improving, failing, or massively messing up, and trying again.
I am still today that girl at the piano bench trudging my way along, tripping over notes I haven't yet learned, and rehearsing the right hand from the left. I may perfect one piece of music, but I cannot perfect them all. I have to continually practice, constantly rehearse, find some determination in the fumbling, and most importantly, give myself grace as I learn.
"So I don't play perfect. But at least I play. And every time I play I get better," says my self speak. I forgive myself for imperfections and drink grace.
But on days of inner grumbling, I'm grateful for the shout out: I hear you. I know you are practicing. It sounds good. She puts her hands on me at the kitchen table and says, "Grace on YOU."
We would all do better to shout praises at each other more often. It cannot hurt.
"It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because in your life, you will make mistakes--it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, 'Well, if I'd known better I'd have done better,' that's all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, 'I'm sorry,' and then you say to yourself, 'I'm sorry.' If we all hold on to the mistake, we can't see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can't see what we're capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one's own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you, when a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that's rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don't have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach." Maya Angelou