The three-year-olds were singing “up like a rocket, down like the rain, ’round and ’round like a choo-choo train” to demonstrate how well they could hold their bows to their pint-size violins. Staying home with Nick, it was my husband who enjoyed the distinct privilege of reveling, firsthand, in these toddler’s first steps. I only got the post-recital smile–the one I always get when I think about the tiniest musicians among us–as I listened to the complete run-down of their afternoon in Westport. We’d been through that drill four times. The “taca-taca-stop-stop” rhythms on the A-and E-strings; the “Mississippi is a River”; and enough Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’s to practically send us orbiting around them. I’m the first to admit: after the fourth kid got through the “twinkles” I honestly thought that if I never heard that song again, it would be just fine by me.
But then in talking about the recital over the first dinner we’ve shared alone during the past three weeks, I couldn’t help but romanticize the whole process. As I reflected back on the past thirteen years of violin lessons, I thought about those first recital pieces, about dressing up Cristina in hand-smocked dresses with white tights and black patent leather shoes, and about the first time two of them played Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins onstage one Mother’s Day. Yesterday, just as my daughter got on stage to perform, the school director gave a couple minute speech of encouragement for the other parents. For those with babes barely “twinkling” needed to understand that, before long, they too would witness mastery up close and personal. If only they could stick with it long enough…..
Sticking with anything is hard enough. In this harried world of ours, where emails have replaced handwritten letters; “IM” has replaced leisurely phone chats; and digital pix sent over the internet have replaced personal visits: it’s no wonder that few of us have the patience for mastery. For enduring the day-to-day until the picture is 100% complete. During this time in which we find ourselves, business–and life–moves at the speed of thought. And we can hardly wait for that thought to be finished so we can move on to the next one. (Ever catch yourself finishing someone else’s sentence?)
We’re great starters, each one of us. Because starting something only requires that we overcome the law of inertia, (and maybe a dollop of temptation, too). Getting our bottoms off the sofa and over to the art studio to paint or our legs off the footstool and over to the treadmill to run both require overcoming inertia and the temptation of relaxing with too much TV. Finishing the after-school cupcake so as to pull the violin out of the case not only requires overcoming inertia; it requires serious discipline as well. But each act is far easier than incorporating it into your everyday reality. Indeed, going from the first piece in a music book to a full-fledged concerto is a different thing entirely. (As is going from a beginning painter to one who exhibits at galleries or a soft, overweight couch-sitter to a hard-bodied athlete who enjoys both physical strength and aerobic endurance.)
When I reveled today in hearing my daughter perform a drop-dead gorgeous movement from a concerto by Handel (in a post-recital private concert just for me), I was caught off-guard by its parallel to the roughly three-year endurance battle that our son is facing now with leukemia. As my daughter is sailing through mastery, I couldn’t help but think of all the violin battles we’ve had over the years when she was barely taking those first steps of musicianship. Of hating to practice, of hating to play scales, of hating those nasty etudes. The eyeball-rolling, the door-slamming, and the stomping of the feet on each step up the hardwood staircase. And yet here we were, enjoying the fruits of all of those days of practice. It was a goose bump moment that could not be denied. It was proof-positive that mastery comes in inches, and not in miles. And it was a lesson to me that battles of health, or catastrophe, or financial hardships are not fought three years out. They’re fought inch by inch.
It was my girlfriend, Lisa, who sent me the “inch by inch is a cinch” line. She met me with it when I needed to hear it the most. She met me with it when I was trying to mush three years of chemotherapy treatments into one day. When I was trying to calculate the math of a three-year chemo roadmap with high school graduation and the first two years of college away from home. Of three years of immune suppression with three other kids and an airplane-traveling husband during flu season. And of six months of long drives to the out-of-town clinic with New England snowstorms.
Yet I must claim “inch by inch” these days. I claim it when Nick’s hematologist lays out the day’s plan. I claimed it on Friday when we were sent back to the hospital for the day and another overnight stay. And I even got Dr. Joe claiming it with me. Together, we agree to not worry about what next week–or next year–will bring; it’s simply too much to think about. We agree to tackle the battle inch by inch.
Whatever your personal struggle or your present-day worry: adopt an “inch by inch is a cinch” plan of positive action. As I’ve said often: just ask yourself at the end of each day: “Did I move forward?” And if you did–even by an inch–you can sleep soundly in the assurance that you will triumph in this journey of life. One day not far from now, inch by inch, you’ll celebrate mastery. You’ll celebrate wholeness. You’ll celebrate complete healing.