A good half of my Facebook newsfeed on New Year’s Day was devoted to groanings and lamentations over the dumpster fire that was the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand and Seventeen. I think most of my friends and acquaintances were making political and social commentary, but for me, 2017 was also a rough year personally.
In January of last year I had no idea what awaited me in the coming months–as we never do–but it’s been interesting to look back at what I wrote then and how it was precisely what I needed to know, before I needed to know it. I had given myself a mantra for the year, and it turned out to be a good one. Let me quote 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:
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.”
Perhaps 2018 is another dumpster-fire year, none of us knows. But I’m going to give myself a new mantra for this year, one my mother uses: “Steady as she goes.”
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.