Pretty Heady Stuff

Dear Will:

It’s not often that a child gets to live out his or her childhood fantasy while still a child, but that is essentially what is happening to my daughter Bryn. Bryn, who is 12, is a ballerina, with quite a bit of talent (if you are willing to take the word of her various teachers over the years). When she was just 3 years old, Bryn started taking dance classes and appeared as an angel and a mouse in her ballet school’s annual Nutcracker production (which in many ways was more like a recital since the only ones in attendance were family members). I’m sure you can envision the contribution of the 3-year-old mice and angels in such a production—they stole the show every time.

Since that first performance, Bryn started collecting nutcrackers. She now has a couple of dozen (or so) of various shapes and sizes. And over the years, she continued appearing in that same annual production, graduating from angel to bon bon to flower girl along the way. All of the girls longed some day to be given the role of Clara, the nightgowned girl around whom the entire production revolves. No doubt it has ever been thus.

When Bryn’s ballet school was sold last year, we were forced to find her a new place to take her lessons. We settled on the Academy of Ballet Pacifica, Orange County’s resident ballet company, because it was affiliated with some of the most famous dancers in the world (ever heard of Ethan Stiefel or Amanda McKerrow?) and because her teachers continued to insist that she had a natural talent that might best be cultivated at a more serious conservatory.

Of course, it’s one thing to stand out in a smallish, neighborhood ballet school and quite another to try to make your mark in an academy that draws students from all over Orange County and beyond. To our delight (and my bemusement), when we got to the Academy we discovered that Bryn really is as good as we had been told. Even in a room full of hard working ballerinas, Bryn seemed to stand out.

Thus we were not entirely surprised to learn recently that Bryn has been cast as Clara in Ballet Pacifica’s December production of the Nutcracker. This production will include several professional-level dancers and is certainly a notch above anything she has done before. Rather than appearing a couple of times before family and friends at the local community college theatre, this time Bryn will be dancing several nights throughout December at the Irvine Barkley Theatre.

Pretty heady stuff for a 12-year-old, don’t you think? (Pretty heady stuff for her parents as well, I suppose.) Alas, the consequence of this great honor is that now Bryn will be dancing more than ever, with weekend rehearsals to go along with the 10+ hours of weekly dance classes she is already taking. It’s too much, really—more than I would ever stand for were it not for her manifest passion and talent.  At the same time, I am troubled by the implications as more and more of her time and attention is devoted to ballet and less to school and family and church activities. I worry about her becoming one dimensional, about her wearing out her tiny body, about her losing touch with friends and disconnecting with the variety that should enrich the life of any 12-year-old girl.

More than anything, I pray that she recognizes that she has been given a rare gift, and that that recognition inspires in her not the conceit of a diva but rather the humility of a girl who sees in her talent a direct connection with her Heavenly Father.

PW

Another Blown Opportunity

Dear Will:

When I sat down at the dinner table tonight I announced: “After dinner I want to write a letter to Will.” Big mistake.

I had this notion that I could tell you about hiking over Piute Pass in the High Sierras, about the precarious climb over granite boulders and cascading waters that we later named Almost Falls, about rising in the middle of the night and standing transfixed, unable to stop staring at stars so numerous the moon need not have bothered coming to work. I knew I would be searching for a more articulate way to say “Wow!”

But my wife had other plans. Had to go to Home Depot, she said. Had to order new front doors. Had to, just had to do it tonight lest some dignitary show up in a couple of weeks and see our home the way it has appeared since we moved into it six years ago. Had to.

And so we did. Upon our return a couple of hours later, I tucked kids into bed and sat down to read scriptures with my son Luke. It’s a nightly ritual which we have maintained for around a year now. Generally I look forward to it. But tonight I was anxious. I had a letter to write.

While we were reading, Barnum, the psychodog, was jumping up and down against the door, his nightly signal that he would appreciate it if someone (me) would take him out for one last romp before putting him to bed. I was reminded that my daughter had not ever taken him for a walk today. So next thing I knew I was wandering the cul-de-sac while Barnum dashed about in search of rabbits. And mischief. And, as it turned out, an abandoned chunk of the neighbor’s garbage. Which he deposited in my garage.

It was about then that I remembered that my niece is arriving later this evening. To accommodate her, we had to turn the study into a “guest room.” Books were scattered everywhere and needed to be put away. The bed (a blow-up mattress—pretty classy, huh?) had to be set up. Had to pull out some towels and put the mints on the pillow (to maintain a high-end atmosphere to go with our new front doors).

It was about the time that I was wrestling around on the floor with the inflate-a-bed and a contour sheet that I remembered one of the passages Luke and I had read just a few minutes earlier:

Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:43-44)

And right about then it occurred to me that the things that had filled my evening—small things, every one—were the kinds of things I should be doing. These little acts of unremarkable service should flow from me naturally, in part as a consequence of my basic Christianity. And of course, as the thought entered my mind, it also occurred to me that I done every bit of it (even reading the scriptures, I’m ashamed to say) with the wrong attitude. Which isn’t what Jesus had in mind at all.

Oops. Another blown opportunity to do the right things for the right reasons. I suppose that doing the right things still counts for something, but it’s clear that I still have a long way to go. I really wanted to tell you about the High Sierras, but I figured that tonight this story was more important.

PW