It was the spot where the deep, rich tones of the base notes balanced the intricate harmonies that set off the melody. It was a grandiose flourish, the dramatic climax. I practiced it over and over. Fast and slow, loud and soft, intense and light.
And then, when presenting to an audience recently, I muffed it.
Just that one part. Just those few notes.
I don’t know if my error still rings in the ears of my audience like it does in mine, or if the other couple of thousand notes I got right were enough to leave them with a better impression, but being yet again less than perfect has left me with no choice: I have vowed never to play the piano in public again.
As if it isn’t bad enough to be making mistakes every now and then, it’s even worse when hundreds of people know about it. Or thousands. Ask Gov. Rick Perry. Or that football player for San Francisco who fumbled the ball in overtime.
Some mistakes are mistakes of nerves, others are mistakes from being hurried, being stressed, making wrong choices or having others around you make wrong choices.
The newspaper industry is a dangerous place to be if you don’t want people knowing about your mistakes.
I learned that the hard way at one of my first newspaper jobs, when I wrote a column about being pregnant and it ended up running not with my photo, but with the photo of a man.
He was likely more chagrined than I, though he has not yet stepped forward to be identified so I don’t know for sure.
And while that mistake was not one that I personally had made, I personally was implicated.
When seeing another’s mistake, we can chose to laugh, to sympathize, to ridicule, to learn, to understand, or to take heart that maybe if they’re trying and coming up short, maybe we can try too. What we choose says more about ourselves than it does about the mistake.
When we make mistakes, we can choose to give up forever or to hope someone is taking heart somewhere, take away a lesson and try harder the next time.
I have a little sign near my desk that says you should do one thing every day that scares you, a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. I have another little clipping that quotes Theodore Roosevelt as saying it’s not the critic who counts, but the one who is in the arena striving valiantly even if coming up short.
So it leaves me no choice but to revise my hasty vow. My efforts are not to impress but to share. Perhaps to inspire, perhaps to inform, perhaps to touch. My imperfections are not reason to quit. They’re a lesson and an incentive to keep trying but harder.
Bring on the arena.