As you have probably heard – and no pun intended – Christina Aguilera botched the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner before the Super Bowl. It took me no time at all to find numerous video replays of this moment, which I watched with a mixture of curiosity and dread, knowing full well that a part of my heart would seize as if it were I experiencing this tiny mental lapse in front of all of the known universe. To her professional credit, Aguilera forged ahead without dropping a note. My guess is she will survive to sing another day. So it usually goes. A kind of comic/tragic film could be written about a singer whose career heads south after just such a mishap, and yet the truth is almost always more forgiving.
I am one of those who has the occasional nightmare of going to work or school in my underwear (or less). Actually, as I understand it, this dream is so common it become a Jungian cliché. I have felt sometimes as if I have spent a better part of my life avoiding public humiliation. Strange from a man happy to speak in front of people, but it’s true. George Plimpton put it very well. For one of his many life adventure/experiments he played the triangle in a symphony. For Plimpton, as for many others, he spent the weeks leading up to the performace not waiting to play, but waiting not to make a mistake.
The idea, however, that we are capable of a fatal mistake is erroneous. Unless you actually die, you will still be alive, and if you do die, I doubt you will care that you didn’t see the bus coming. I have forgotten lines in plays, dropped touchdown passes, tripped over hurdles in state championships, played wrong notes, missed deadlines, and still I woke up this morning eager to do the next thing. Shame is mental flagellation, choosing to relive again and again a moment of distraction, as if this punishment will prevent the next stumble. In my own experience, the memory is far worse than the actual moment, for in the memory we tell a cruel story, a story filled with the opinions of strangers, a story filled with unheard laughter, a story of a world stripped of compassion, where our future hinges on every lyric we will ever be asked to remember.
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