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According to the blogging experts, this is what I should write about in this New Years’ Day post in order to drive web traffic, listed in order of search frequency:
how to lose weight
how to save money
buy a house
get out of debt
learn a language
hobbies that make money
how to exercise
learn how to knit
how to decorate
make more money
learn to cook
how to break bad habits
find a boyfriend
stop drinking soda
get a six pack
As interesting as that list is in its aspirational discontent, I’m not going to write about any of those things. Because I’m not into resolutions. I can’t remember the last time I made, much less kept, a resolution.
Maybe I’m the one who’s deficient—maybe I just don’t have the self-control to make and achieve annual goals. For whatever reason, they don’t work for me, and I’m too old to pretend that I care.
But here’s what does work for me: mantras. I discovered the usefulness of mantras when I went through a particularly difficult period in my life and a friend gave me a very short sentence to repeat over and over to myself. Like proverbs, or the Jesus prayer, or praise choruses, the brevity and pithiness of a mantra makes it memorable and easy to hold onto when we might otherwise be tired, confused, hungry, anxious, or frustrated—or in other words, when our rational selves are less capable of making good decisions.
Unlike a resolution, a mantra doesn’t have as its goal a particular outcome. Instead, the mantra reminds us to stay present in the moment, to stay alert, to stay awake, to stay mindful. It’s our state of mind that is important, not a change in our material circumstances.
So here’s my mantra for 2017: “Even the clarinets.”
Let me explain by way of narrative:
Like most middle-schoolers in American public schools, our middle son joined band this year. Years ago, when I did the same thing, my dad advised me to play the French horn. “They’re unusual,” he said, “and you get more musical opportunities when you play an instrument in demand.” Surprise, surprise—I chose the flute instead. (He got the last laugh when I switched to French horn in high school).
Our own little guy received no advice from us about choice of instrument—we just aren’t organized enough in our household to know ahead of time when a child has, you know, a potentially life-altering choice to make about extracurricular activities.
The next thing we knew, we had to buy a trombone. Y’all, trombones are EXPENSIVE. What’s more, the child playing the trombone is small for his age, and his arms aren’t long enough to reach all the slide positions. Maybe this is part of how middle-school band teachers keep sane—absurdist humor. In any case, we now have a trombonist in the house.
I had to miss my son’s first band concert because of a work event, so I asked him when I got home how it went.
“It was great, mom. Except my friend was really nervous. She was so nervous that on the second song her slide slipped out of her trombone, and then she started to cry. And then she was embarrassed to be crying on stage.”
I murmured my sympathy and asked what he did in response.
“I said to her, ‘It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes—even the clarinets.’”
I love so much about this story. I love my son’s tender heart. I love that he interrupted his own playing to comfort his friend in the middle of their performance. I love his deep wisdom that mistakes are a regular part of life. And I love, love that inexplicable reference to those glorious clarinets. Are the clarinets, as a section, particularly accomplished? Does the band teacher hold them up as an exemplar section for the others to emulate? I don’t know. I just know that even clarinets make mistakes, and I’m going to hold onto that this year.
Because whatever 2017 holds for all of us, it surely holds many trombone-slide misadventures—moments of sadness and exposure and vulnerability and awkwardness. And when those moments happen, let’s turn to each other and whisper, “It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes—even the clarinets.”
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.