In my twenties, I begin to misplace the things I love.
I put away the music. First, the clarinet with its reedy melodies, which I had played since eleven. Then, the piano, which I had played since six. When I looked at the clarinet with its black body and silver keys, I heard the missed notes in a Schoenberg piece I played in the college band. When I felt piano key ivory, I remembered the hot tears I cried after I forgot the third movement of a piece and sat there for thirty silent seconds. I placed below the girl who played a beginner’s version of “Amazing Grace,” with whole notes in the left hand. I cannot keep the music safe. So I put it away.
Then I put away the languages. I put away the Chinese I learned in China: on the street, in the karaoke bar, in the host family’s house, on the bus. I had worked for every stilted sentence of it, every half-right word and mispronounced tone of it. It had been a quest. I scribbled words in notebooks, talked to strangers on trains, listened until I could understand 25% of what was being said in church. Every awkward phrase meant communication instead of silence, every half-right word meant rice instead of hunger, every greeting meant love. I return to the States, and I try to speak Chinese to a student, and she does not understand. I am naked and ashamed. The language is no longer a game and a tool, something you use. It becomes a relic, a gem, a precious thing, something I will ruin with my mispronounced tones. I put it away.
Last, I put away the writing. I care about it, want to keep it safe the most of all. It is the only thing I have ever wanted to do, and because of that, I cannot do it. It is too precious. It is an heirloom handed down to me by a younger self who did not know fear like I do now. I fold it carefully, smooth its wrinkles. I put it in a box where I cannot ruin it.
I put them away for safekeeping. For someday when I will do them right. I put them away, and I forget how to take them out again.
In our session, the SuperTherapist asks me what I want to work on together, and I confess that I have misplaced nearly everything I love. “I want to play music again, to speak or read my languages or write again. But I can’t do it, because if I screwed it up, I couldn’t take it. It’s better not to do these things at all.”
She looks at me like she is grieving something loved and lost. I look through her eyes. My life that was large has become small. It is lived in safe places, the place between the store and dinner, Facebook and seven episodes of something on Netflix.
“I wonder if you could lower the stakes,” says SuperTherapist. It is a real question, not one that she already knows the answer to. “If you could lower the stakes so that you could do these things again.”
The stakes have never been low.
It was always Harvard and Yale I was shooting for. First chair in band and first prize in piano. Chinese like someone that couldn’t have just been here for a year, sermons like someone who can’t be a beginning preacher, pastoral skills like someone who is wise beyond her years.
“I don’t know if I can lower the stakes,” I tell her. “But maybe I will try.” I don’t want depression, the trickster, to take more from me than it has. I want to find what I love.
I search for them, and one day I find them. I take the music out of the box, lower the stakes for one afternoon. I play Sara Groves songs on my little keyboard that’s missing an octave. I sing over those missed notes, and when I think, I’m worse than I was when I was twelve, I sing over that too. I put the music back.
I hear some people speaking Chinese at a National Park, and I sit down. “Ni hao,” I tell them. Hello. They laugh in surprise, and we talk for fifteen minutes, and then we say our zaijians and leave. I put it back in the box, worn on one side, but no worse for wear.
I take out the writing. I smooth its wrinkles, run my fingers on the edges of the fabric I love. I put it on and find it fits me still. I wear it once and put it back, wear it once and put it back. And one day, I put it on and do not take it off. There are awkward sentences, words that should be cut or added. There is the possibility that no one will read or that someone will snicker about it to their friends, and I won’t even be there to be ashamed.
The more I write, the more it doesn’t matter. Someone reads, or they don’t. They like it, or they don’t. There will be more words for tomorrow and the day after that. With every word, every letter, I lower the stakes.
I wear it straight for these thirty-one days. The hem begins to fray, one sleeve stained. I don’t care. It is mine to wear.
This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email or subscribe in a feed reader. Or “like” the blog on Facebook. (We’re all about options here.) And thanks for reading!