I was 10 when Mrs. Bale told me I was not ready.
My piano teacher had just listened intently to my piece I was preparing for an upcoming recital. Upon finishing, I snapped the keyboard cover down proudly and waited for her approval. To my surprise, she pointed to a section that needed more work. She sagely explained that sections I even mildly struggled with in practice would be even more pronounced in times of stress. In her wisdom -- when playing at the recital, I would most certainly be prone to error during the challenging parts. I shouldn’t just hope for the best. I shouldn’t attempt to convince my audience that I have mastered the most challenging part. And I most certainly shouldn’t trick myself into thinking that I practiced enough to produce a perfect masterpiece for showtime. "Practice more," she advised, "or you won’t be ready."
Now, 38 years later - in these stressful and unique times - I feel as if I am in my own sociological show, but this "recital" isn't over and done in three minutes, it’s been months. Mrs. Bale's wisdom rings true in my ears. I am most certainly stumbling over the more challenging parts of me.
The truth is, even in the best of times, we all have issues to deal with. Let's call these issues our personal landmines. Landmines we shove deep down, far away from our surface, hoping if we bury them they will never detonate. Often we can avoid them for years, even decades. But eventually they creep up and produce characteristics that prove counterproductive. These landmines impede or stunt our personal growth. Their resulting negative traits and habits - the ones we hate to admit even to ourselves - can hinder us from being who we strive to be, and even challenge our relationships and mental health. These landmines surface more in times of heightened stress; and often they rise faster and furious the more desperately we try to bury them.
I am embarrassed to share a few of my relatively commonplace, less impactful landmines: I enjoy lounging in bed well past my alarm, suffer numerous bouts of "unproductivity" (courtesy of my highly refined procrastination skills), and have mastered the art of starting a baker's dozen of different projects without a single doughnut to show for any of them.
However, those all pale in comparison to my most dangerous landmine -- a deep, dark, powerful loss issue that swells from my soul. This little time bomb - swelling to the surface during this ominous pandemic - makes me erupt in panic ten minutes after my son hasn't returned a text, or my husband returns late from his jog -- believing with unreasonable certainty that they have met their untimely end.
During this time of quarantine, these landmines that I have never fully disarmed have vaulted to the surface -- and I am struggling. I convince myself that as a mental health professional – who makes a living helping others with their own landmines - I am fully capable of handling my own. I wake up each morning seemingly ready for the challenge -- with sky-high hopes of getting out of bed at a reasonable hour, following a plan for my day, finishing at night with a sense of accomplishment after completing projects, and laying my head back down on the pillow at night, secure that my faith will shield me from my fear of loss.
Whatever your internal struggle – your land mine -- know that you are doing the best you can during this historic time. NONE of us are ready for the show. It is as if we practiced for an elementary school recital, only to thrust in front of a packed house at the New York Philharmonic. In retrospect, we wish we had more time to practice – to take care of those issues that challenge us.
We will stumble. We will fall. We are not ready. But Mrs. Bale's wisdom gives us insight into how we can eventually disarm our landmines -- practice. Intense practice of the hardest sections of our lives. In the shadow of quarantine, toilet paper hoarding, political strife, cramped family times, and unexpected home schooling, we are now forced to cross our mine fields. Because of this, I believe that our post-pandemic selves will be a new, better, version of ourselves.
Because once you have faced your challenges on the big stage, you will be a maestro once you are back at your elementary school piano. Take heart, better times are ahead.