That Time I Cursed Myself
Picture this: a young boy in second grade is the narrator of his class’s Mother’s Day play. He is of Gifted intelligence, and he strives for perfection in nearly all that he does, to the point that you would be fair in saying that he is hard on himself. How he is viewed by others is also of importance to him, as his view of himself is in some ways shaped, especially at this age, by how the world sees him.
This child (yes, he’s me, natch), does a fine job through most of the play, introducing the various skits. He pronounces his words well, looks up at the audience from his cue cards occasionally, and has a natural cadence. Sure, his posture could use work, as well as his outfit (khakis and a tucked in blue striped shirt… thank you 1980s), but he’s a decent narrator.
Then, something happens, and his cue card is not the right one for the next segment. He becomes aware of this error through his connection with the audience… namely he could see that he lost them. That and the susurrus of confused shuffling from the bleachers of classmates behind him. However, with nary a beat, he walks to his cards, gets the right one, and continues the show.
With one small exception… right before getting the cards, as the cause dawns on him, he makes a silly face, putting a finger to his open mouth in an “Oh! I know what’s wrong!” gesture. It was for a second, maybe two, and then gone, the show carrying on to the joy and/or dismay of the parents in attendance.
Afterward, the boy is upset. He made a mistake! Everyone saw! Luckily, he has kind parents who assured him that it was nothing, that he handled it well, and that no one would remember it given how great everything else was that he did. Naive advice? Possibly, but also exactly what this scared child needed to hear in order to move on with his life.
Well, as many of us know, life sometimes gives us what we fear most, and in this child’s case, it was the immortalization of his error. This came in the form of a front page (so my parent’s recall) photo in the local paper of him mid-mistake, finger over o-shaped mouth, looking oh so stupid…
This boy… me… he… I… was furious. I was horrified. I was ashamed.
From this state of being, tears streaming down my face, I swore from the depths of my soul that I would never get up on stage to be embarrassed again. Even at that age, I felt the power of my words (and in some ways I can still feel echoes of that rage).
That curse lasted decades.
When school plays would come up, when nearly any artistic opportunity emerged, I shied away, made excuses, or simply said, “no.” Sure, I took leadership roles elsewhere, but anything in theater, music, dance?… nope. There was a fear buried somewhere in my past that I never looked at, that I was afraid to look at, and that I allowed to keep me bound.
It wasn’t until mediation nearly two decades later re-introduced me to that scared and embarrassed little boy, crying on the steps of his house, that I realized I was still carrying that curse with me. Through meditating on this event, not only was I able to neutralize the power it had over me (that is, to break my own curse), I was also able to see that it wasn’t merely this moment that was the issue… it was how much I wanted to control what others thought of me that actually had control over me.
My fixation on the illusion of perfection prevented me from practicing arts that I love and from learning to do things I wasn’t good at from the get-go, and I’m glad to be growing past those old wounds, especially given how silly they seem in retrospect.
As this year draws to a close and I enthusiastically look toward the next, I thank my seven year-old self for making mistakes, and I promise to make many more as I continue to challenge myself and to grow.
[PS — The reason this came up tonight is that I happened to watch the family video of the play while at home for Christmas. I’ve carried the above photo in my phone for some time as a reminder to not take myself so seriously, so seeing the moment played out on (grainy VHS converted to DVD) video was a treat. I loved most the opening monologue where I discussed historical traditions celebrating mothers including Greek and Roman goddess worship (which also proves to me that some interests never fade).]