Lauren and Mikaela--identical twins living on opposite coasts--blog about the story of life and their adventures in faith.


The Recital Tragedy

The room was closing in on me as if I were suffocating under a heavy woolen cloak.  My shaky legs wobbled to the front of the room and I heard the applause as though it were from a distant mountain top.  I sank onto the bench, willing my choked lungs to work, willing my heart to stop overworking, and willing the worked-up trembling spasms in my legs to disappear. 

I wasn’t appearing in the Roman Colosseum facing a flesh-hungry wild beast.  But at that moment I was facing something that felt just as impossible: my piano recital. 

I was playing Debussy’s Reverie.  Trying not to think about how easy it would be to tangle myself in the web of left hand arpeggios, I lifted my clammy fingers to the keys.  The beginning notes slid into the air with ease, and I relaxed into the cushioned bench just a bit.  The measures began floating by, shaping whispering castles in the air that vanished into the clouds of melody like scenery passing into the distance 

Suddenly, a raucous note shattered everything: the castle in the air abruptly crumbled, my fingers were lost, and panic squeezed my heart.  The silence felt a mile long as one part of my brain grappled with that ridiculous next note that eluded me while the other part warded off the image of the audience suddenly on the edge of their seats, enjoying my suspense. 

Finally, my fingers fell woodenly into a passage a few lines before, and I grasped it like a drowning girl clutching driftwood.  But it was only temporary relief, for the earlier chasm approached.  I closed my eyes and ran with it.  When I opened my eyes again and breathed, I had leaped the chasm, skipping the problem section that I couldn’t remember as well as the whole page of music surrounding it, and I stumbled to the finish line.

I was devastated and mortified.  Several friends had been there to witness the debacle, and I could barely stand the agony of embarassment.  Whenever I thought about my performance I grew hot with shame, and all my teacher’s stories of his worst-nightmare performances did little to salve the burn.  The only way I felt any better was by tossing the memory into the recesses of my brain and burying it. 

I had all but forgotten about that recital, the ignominy fading with time.  Then, only a few months ago, I felt that same feeling all over again, and the memory was unburied.  This time, however, the shame didn't stem from a memory flub at a recital, but from a moment when I inadvertently let out someone else’s secret.  It was a big, life-changing secret, and it slipped out both because I hadn’t at first known it was a secret and because I had forgotten that someone else was in the room.  You can only imagine the silence following the premature revelation. I felt that same familiar shame and that same mortification.

Those whose secret I had slipped extended grace to me, but it wasn’t until I was lying in bed that night that I realized that what stung the most was that I had hurt them and needed their forgiveness and love to cover my mistake.  I had messed up royally, and, just like the piano recital of years ago, the only way to carry on was to accept that they loved me enough to carry on. 

It was then that I realized one of the most important lessons of my life.
I could extend grace to others.
I could stand tall and say, “I forgive you.”
But after making an unforgivable mistake, kneeling in humility, forgiven, and letting go of my shame and guilt could seem unthinkable.  On the other hand, chastising myself with my own mortification seemed perfect penance.  I had the Gospel all twisted up. 
In the words of my grandfather, spoken to me when I was fourteen and wrestling with the same burden of guilt: “Lauren, there was only ever one perfect Man, and they killed Him."

While I thought I was setting a high standard, I had subtly been seeking what Lucifer had sought.  I had inadvertently turned into Eve, faced with the tantalizing opportunity to be like God and falling prey to being like Satan.   

My pride shattered then, not under the weight of unforgivable guilt like Javert from Les Miserables, but under the weight of God’s grace and mercy.  I was stripped like Adam and Eve, holding out my arms to receive the fruit of sacrifice, the animal-skin covering of grace.  

Grace.  I never understood just how big a word it is until now, when I realize how tiny my mistakes are in comparison to its covering.

“Day 37-Playing piano,” © 2009 Vladimir Agafonkin, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license:

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