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

Arms, Legs, Attitude, and Divinity

Dear Will:

Greetings from around the corner. I hope all is well with you and that your summer is shaping up to be full of fun, adventure, and prosperity. Failing that, then at least I hope you find a good book or two to read. I have several—I just don’t have time to read them.

But enough whining about petty things—here’s something really worth whining about: Today my oldest son Luke turned twelve. It didn’t exactly come upon me unawares, but it is a jolt nonetheless.

Feeling just a tad nostalgic, tonight my wife Dana and I leafed through photo albums, reminiscing about when he was little and cute. He’s still cute, of course, but in a completely different way. Now he’s all arms and legs and attitude, with a squeaky voice which reminds me that my little dude is quickly becoming (gulp!) a man.

The wondrous thing about watching a child grow is witnessing the discovery of interests and talents that seem to predate this mortal existence. Luke, we are finding out, is a reluctant pianist but gifted with the clarinet. He dislikes math yet won the Math Olympiad at his school. He is a fledgling artist (a genetic mutation if ever there was one) and, to my complete delight, a rather remarkable writer. I know that around twelve years ago I lost all ability to look at him objectively, but I do see in him a divine potential that I can only hope not to screw up.

Nevertheless, there is much that Luke still needs to learn, much that is far more important than the ability to paint a picture or compose an elegant phrase. I speak, of course, of the divine attributes which are the true sign of maturity. In that regard, Luke would do well to remember the words of our Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley:

There is something of divinity in you. You have such tremendous potential because of your inherited nature. Every one of you was endowed by your Father in Heaven with a tremendous capacity to do good in the world. Cultivate the art of being kind, of being thoughtful, of being helpful. Refine within you the quality of mercy which comes as a part of the divine attributes you inherited.  (Stand a Little Taller, p. 185)

That’s good advice for all of us, even people like me who don’t possess even a fraction of Luke’s talent and potential. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could cultivate a bit more of our divinity and in the process maybe make a difference in the lives of those around us? I know that my family would sure like it if I did.

PW