After two long years of waiting, she finally took to the stage once more. The pandemic had brought her last dance recital to a sad halt. Costumes hung in her closet, dances were choreographed and ready, but she and her fellow dancers spent last spring huddled in their homes, waiting for an invisible foe to pass by. And maybe it was the missing out, the learning to appreciate things that we once took for granted, that made this year’s performance feel so special. Everyone was so happy just to be there, parents and grandparents leaned forward with anticipation, bunches of flowers in their laps, dancers of all ages and stages twittering excitedly in the wings. Dance recital was finally here again. Regular life was here again.
The curtain opened, and she must have stood in the wings with butterflies in her stomach. Maybe she stepped forward a tad to search the crowd for friends who’d said they would come. She was a senior in high school, and she was about to step into the spotlight for the solo dance she had been dreaming about since she was a little girl. Years of hard work, perseverance, blisters, sore muscles, hours and hours of preparation and training and laughter and maybe a few tears had led her to this moment. She was about to demonstrate what it had all been for, with confidence, with poise, with perfectly pointed toes and graceful, quiet strength.
The music changed. This was her cue. She smiled and stepped into the blue stagelight. She was ready. We all watched as she seemed to float to center stage. Her leap was beautiful and difficult, but she had done it so many times before. It was like second nature to her now, not something that she felt unsure about or laid awake at night going over and over in her mind. Yet, something happened when she came back down to the unforgiving wooden planks of the stage. Her ankle gave way. She fell. And when she tried to get up again and resume her moment, her magnum opus, she couldn’t do it. Pain was evident on her face. She limped off stage, and the entire crowd seemed to take a deep breath that we never let out again, waiting to see her emerge from the wings to take her place. But she never did.
My own daughters were backstage in their different dressing rooms, throwing off costumes and shimmying into different ones, running through narrow hallways, breathless, trying to get back to the stage that awaited their next number. They giggled with their friends and recalled what they had been taught in countless hours of preparation for this day. I sat in my seat and smiled, imagining what kind of chaos must rule the places that we don’t see, the places just beyond the stage, while audiences sit in anticipation, oblivious to all that is happening behind the scenes. Yet, even as I enjoyed the performance, I kept remembering the fall, the pain that was etched on her face, the sad realization that she must have been having that she wasn’t going to get the senior recital that she had been waiting and working for.
And then, when her fellow seniors came out for the last time to perform their final dance, I saw her. She was standing in the wings, still wearing the pretty costume that she had carefully chosen for this day. And she was crying. Again and again, her hand came to her face, wiping away the tears that wouldn’t stop as she watched her friends do what she couldn’t. I felt like I was watching a dream crumble right there in the shadows so close to the spotlight.
When the performance was over, she walked out on the stage. She bowed, and we applauded her years of hard work and dedication. We applauded her in her disappointment. We applauded her tears. And we applauded the smile that she wore as she bowed with her friends. This wasn’t how she expected it to all come to an end. And we applauded her heartbreak, as if by clapping our hands we could hold her up in some way.
It was a reminder to me that most things we dedicate our time and efforts to are fleeting. As parents we can get so very invested in our kids’ abilities and talents, in their interests and endeavors, and the truth is that all of it can be over in a half second. Just one injury. Just one incident. Just one bad day. Just one failed audition. We have a difficult time as parents separating what is temporal and what is eternal, and we tend to put all of our children’s eggs into corruptible baskets. Tim Keller puts it this way: “If we look to created things to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually break our hearts.” Yet how much time do we devote to sports, to academics, to artistic training, as opposed to how much time we give to spiritual concerns, to service, to prayer, to biblical instruction? We favor the fleeting over the everlasting. And if we do, then when the disappointment and heartbreak comes, as it inevitably will, what are we left with but emptiness and a sense of futility. What was it all really for?
Seeing that precious girl take to the stage with a smile after such a tough and disheartening day, I felt sure that she had reached an understanding in her heart: this was important, but it wasn’t everything. There’s more. And maybe that’s something that a lot of us parents need to begin to recognize as well. There is more to this life than the sports and the studies and the spotlights. In fact, if we get lost in the fog of those things, we will have a very difficult time seeing anything clearly, with spiritual eyes or with hearts tuned to the heart of God. It was an unforgettable moment and quite a lesson to me, an aging mother sitting silently in the dark auditorium, examining my own heart and finding it lacking. If we have the love of Christ, that is enough.