Did This One with My Eyes Closed

 

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Dear Will:

I hope you will not think me especially loutish when I admit that sometimes I have a hard time staying awake at the ballet. And at the symphony. And pretty much in any meeting that involves sitting and listening passively. As long as I stay locked into the subject at hand, I’m fine. But should my mind wander, even briefly, I turn into Captain Nod, that sag-eyed, bobble-headed drooper at the back of the conference room (or at the front of the chapel). Years ago I started taking notes during church services simply to keep myself from fading. It works. Most of the time.

I don’t buy tickets in the orchestra section hoping to get in a good nap, mind you. It’s just that sometimes the body takes over no matter what efforts the mind might undertake to remain in control—especially if the room is dark and stuffy and the guy with the pointer is a little (how shall I put this?) soporific. In desperate moments I’ll occasionally stand and walk around during someone else’s presentation in order fend off an eye-fluttering face-plant, but sometimes even that doesn’t work: I once nodded off while standing in a dimly-lit conference room in Bordeaux when jetlag, PowerPoint, and a languid Frenchman teamed up to carry me off to Monde Somnolent in spite of my best efforts to remain alerte—which I believe is French for not keeling over mid-snore. (It could be worse: I have a friend who has been known to doze off during a one-on-one conversation . . . in the middle of his own sentence. We keep such friends around so that we can feel better about ourselves. It works. Most of the time.)

It takes only one snorer during Act II of Sleeping Beauty (a moment of irony lost on no one at the ballet) to know that you are not alone in your inability to stay awake on command. Even so, I find my greatest reassurance in scripture: No doubt you’ll recall that even Peter, James, and John—Jesus’s most trusted friends—could not keep their eyes open on what was the Most Important Night in the History of the World. As Jesus prayed the most sacred of prayers—to which they had been invited as especial witnesses—His senior apostles, in spite of themselves, drifted off to sleep. Disappointed though He must have been, Jesus showed that He understood well the limitations of the mortals around Him when He said: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

The compassion and love Jesus showed in that moment shows that that He gets me. He understands that sometimes my shortcomings are too much for even my very best intentions. The flesh is weak. When elsewhere He promises that his “grace is sufficient,” He means that He’s got my back, that He can make up for all of the lapses that really matter—and then some.

That’s why I take particular solace from this verse of scripture: “The Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34). Flawless execution would be an unreasonable standard. But willingness and effort? That I can do. It might not get me through those adagios that seem always to show up in the second movement, yet it fills me with enough hope to get me through this life and into the next.

But just in case: If you could wake me for the resurrection, I would really appreciate it.

PW

 

Illustration: Pat Bagley

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The End of Life as We Know It

Dear Will:

Life as we know it is about to come to an end. By which I mean that our daughter is about to leave home. Which doesn’t begin to tell the full story.

I’ll try to make it brief: As I think you know, Bryn is a ballerina—a pretty good one if you believe the pundits who know about these things. She has danced many leading roles for her local ballet company. Last year she was a finalist in the annual Spotlight competition at the Music Center in downtown LA, and in January of this year she won gold at the YoungArts competition sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Pretty cool.

But things have gotten complicated as Bryn approaches graduation from high school in June. First she was offered a position in the second company of the Houston Ballet (a typical entry-level gig for an aspiring dancer). It was exactly what she was hoping for. But something didn’t feel right, so she turned them down.

A couple of weeks later, Bryn was admitted to Juilliard as one of only 12 female dancers who get admitted each year. After she declined that invitation due to financial concerns (it costs over $50,000 per year), they sweetened the deal and offered her almost a full tuition scholarship. Such an honor! And so enticing! But she turned down Juilliard too.

Then about a week later the unimaginable happened. Bryn was offered an apprenticeship with American Ballet Theatre in New York. Now if you don’t follow the ballet world that won’t mean a lot to you, but it’s bigger than a big deal. To put it into terms that I can understand, it’s sort of like being invited to join the New York Yankees without having to play in the minor leagues first. It’s more than she could possibly hope for coming straight out of high school, the early fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

What this means is that Bryn will have to put her hopes of going to college on hold. And it means that in less than a month, my 17-year-old only-daughter will be moving to New York to start her career. The good news is that Bryn is an exceptional young woman, with her feet firmly planted on the ground (for now, anyway) and with an abiding faith in God. I worry, of course, as any father would, about her safety and happiness. But I do not worry about her priorities. What’s that old proverb? “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Assuming that’s true, Bryn will be fine.

That’s not the only change we’re going to see around here. A couple of months ago I mentioned that my son Luke—the recent college graduate—was discouraged in his efforts to find his first real job. Well to his great relief, he has been offered a position with a small advertising agency in Costa Mesa. He starts next week. He’ll be moving into his own apartment at the end of this month. Thanks to a temp job he landed around the time that I wrote to you, the full extent of Luke’s “unemployment” was about a week. Not bad.

Meanwhile, the nervous dad is about to have a coronary. As I get ready to send two of my three children off into the world to find their way without me, I keep coming back to another passage in Proverbs that provides wise counsel to all of us—the departing children and the worried father alike: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5 – 6).

PW

I Wish You Could See Her Dance

Dear Will:

I wish you could see her dance.

My daughter is a supremely gifted ballerina. Not that I know the first thing about dancing, you understand. But people who know the first and second and fifty-seventh things about dancing have told us repeatedly that she’s got “it” (whatever “it” is). And at this point, I’ve sat through enough dance performances that I’m starting to see what they’re talking about. In a room full of talented ballerinas, Bryn still manages to stand out—not in a flashy, hey-look-at-me sort of way, but rather with an understated elegance. Your eye is drawn to her—even if you’re not the dad.

I would not have chosen this path for my daughter, believe me. For starters, ballet is extremely expensive (who knew?). And since she is at the studio six days a week (20 to 30 hours!), it is a major burden on the family. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in the conference room at the Maple Conservatory of Dance waiting (yet again) to take my daughter home. If she had chosen instead to pursue, say, biochemistry, I would just have to see that she got to and from school and got her homework done. And maybe if she joined the Chemistry Club (or whatever it is that aspiring biochemists join in high school) it might have cost me 25 bucks. Piece o’ cake.

But here’s the thing: She loves it. LOVES it. She gladly endures the sweat and the pain and the hard work because she isn’t fully herself until she puts on her pointe shoes and starts to move. That’s when she becomes centered, sentient, pulsing with life. In fact, she has been dancing for so long now (since she was four or five?) that her identity is inextricably linked to ballet. When I introduce myself to someone at 15, I might have said, “I’m Peter, and I like to play basketball.” Bryn never says it that way. It’s not “I like to dance,” but rather, “I’m Bryn, and I’m a dancer.”

It bears repeating, however: Bryn is 15. Her journey of life is underway, but relatively speaking she’s barely left the driveway. So much of her future remains to be determined, so many choices of great significance remain to be made. But because of her avocation, she’s already feeling the pressure to know for sure what she should do. I’m told it’s not uncommon for dancers to join professional companies at 16 or 17 years of age. (“Over my dead body,” says the dad.) And since she’s talented, she feels that she should start moving in that direction—or at least that her colleagues in the dance world expect her to. That pressure doesn’t come from her parents, I assure you, nor from her teachers; but maybe from well-meaning strangers and interested friends who ask her, repeatedly, what her future plans are. And that pressure is intense. Of course I’ve told her not to worry about it, told her that at 15 the biggest decision you should have to make is whether to order the burrito or the fish tacos. But giving her that good advice does not come close to making it so.

Later tonight, after her 9:30 dinner (imagine!) and an hour or more of homework, she will curl around her scriptures as she does each night. I can only hope that she turns then to the fourth chapter of Mark where she will read of the time when Jesus’ disciples were troubled themselves by a raging storm. They did as she might, and called to Him who calmed the wind and waves with simple words: “Peace, be still.” May He likewise bring peace to her troubled soul.

As I wait here for her to come off pointe, to return to earth and settle—exhausted—beside me in the car, I tilt my head to see her through the window slats. I look at her there, floating weightless across the floor, light as a distant melody, absorbed in the flow and emotion of the moment. One small strand of hair has freed itself from her tight, tight bun. It dances gently across her brow, moving effortlessly to music one can only imagine.

PW