Today was a day when I decided to learn a hard lesson. It’s not often that I am given the chance to decide whether or not to learn a lesson. They are usually forced on me. Like remembering that I need to wear sunscreen when I go bike riding, even though it doesn’t feel like summer, when I got a really bad burn. Or being reminded that I need to keep my temper under control when Jake cried when I got mad at something. (That was a hard one that brought me to my knees). I am sure you get what I’m talking about. So, today was a little different.

The lesson came in the form of my flute. My flute was given to me by a sweet friend when my amazing, hand-crafted especially for me flute burned along with the rest of my belongings. One of the only times I cried picking through the rubble was when I found the foot piece of my flute. All the keys had been burned off and it was just a hollow tube. In fact, I’m not sure anyone but me would have recognized it for what it was. I loved that flute. To be honest, the one I have now isn’t one I would have ever picked out for myself. It’s not the best one in the world, but it is very precious to me, since it was given to me with so much love.

It has been almost 8 years since I played a flute regularly and I don’t know what possessed me to take my flute out today. Almost without thinking I put it together and played a C scale. Or tried to play a C scale. The fingerings are there, but my technique is terrible and my embouchure would be kicked out of any practice room. I realized that I’m pretty awful.

The worst thing is that I have all the memory of being great. Of being able to fly up three plus octaves in less than four seconds. Perfectly. I remember playing the hardest music ever written for flute and not being half bad at it. I remember how good I was. And right now that hurts.

There is no way on earth I could play like that right now. I can barely hit my low C, my technique is shaky and my tone is middling. My lips went right back to a terrible shape that I finally got rid of after a year of relearning to play. My middle C went flat on me again. My shoulders hurt from not being used to holding my arms in that specific way. I wanted to cry.

Today was all about the decision to not give up and to learn humility in this very specific area of my life. It would be so easy to pack my flute away and live my glory days in my head and tell everyone how great I was. But, I’m not going to do that. I will humble myself and admit that I stink at the flute right now. I don’t want to stink at it forever. I want to put in the hard work. While I’m not thrilled about having to start over and learn everything the right way again, I want to do it.

I remember how arrogant I used to be about being the best. I don’t want that anymore. And so, I choose to be bad. For now. I choose to admit that I need to be humbled and pray that I don’t let my pride get in the way of learning to be better. I choose to practice. With the right attitude and a lot of humility!

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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5 Responses to Humility

  1. Brenda says:

    I know I say this a lot when I comment on things, but I don’t mean it tritely … I love you, SO MUCH. This is a terribly hard lesson to learn, and I have had to relearn it more times than I care to think about. One of the lowest points in my musical career happened few years ago when I returned to the piano after two years of nearly piano-less existence (you remember all that, of course). I went through that same realization that I had gotten pretty terrible by any serious standard of playing – my scales were wretched, I couldn’t play a series of octaves evenly to save my life, and I was just so SLOW. I hated it, and it took a couple of years with a metronome to really get pulled back together

    But then there was another dreadful shock when I started improving and realized that my glory days had not been as glorious as I had remembered them. As I improved (mostly by having major works thrown at me by embarrassed kids mumbling, “Um, I forgot to give this to you and we need to play it next week”), I realized that I was playing at a level far above my college playing, and I wanted to crawl under a rock every time I thought about how super-duper I’d thought I was. I mean, it’s good that I’m improving, don’t get me wrong. But ugh … what a nasty discovery to make along the way.

    You really WERE that good though, so hopefully you’ll get to skip that particular life lesson. 😉

  2. Mom says:

    Wow Mary – you touched my heart! I was just thinking about your flute the other day, wishing we had bought you one that could have been upgraded. I guess it wouldn’t make much difference if it burned up. Do you know if the flute maker is still in business?

  3. Rebecca says:

    oh, my lovely friend–
    that flute is going to be so beautiful in your hands–
    far more than it ever could have been,
    and certainly ever was in mine.

    you keep playing.

    i’ll keep painting.

    and on days when it’s hard and stupid and EVERYTHING IS WRONG,
    we’ll call each other,
    and get back up on our goddamned horses again.

  4. Laura Jane says:

    Oh, Mary. This is such a beautiful piece. I love you so much. This is one of the hardest things to admit to ourselves.
    I’ve never heard you play. Hopefully that will change someday.

  5. Becky says:

    Wow! I accidentally marked this post as “read” so I’m just seeing it today. I see now that God meant for me to read it today. Tonight, I’m going to my first worship practice in a while, at our church where I’m mediocre, as opposed to being the very best at my last church. I haven’t played the piano in months, and I’m so nervous! Thank you for encouraging me to move forward in humility.

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