Even thirty-some years later, when I think about my experience in marching band, I can feel the blood rush to my cheeks, and my shoulders slump in defeat. I had dreamed of being a member of the color guard ever since I first saw my sister twirl the flag and perform in the half-time shows.
For a small school, the band was quite good. I remember trying out at the end of my freshmen year. It devastated me when I found I wasn’t selected to be one of sixteen girls who made flag twirling an art form.
By several flukes, however, I received a call at the end of the summer. Apparently, there was an opening and I was next in line. I can still remember the conversation. “One of our members dropped out and we’d like you to join? Are you available to start practice next week?”
I jumped up and down, hopping as far as the phone’s tether would allow. I tried not to squeal as I answered, “Yes, that would be great.” As soon as I hung up, I ran through the house screaming. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now.
It seems there was a valid reason why I had never been selected to be part of the band. I’m tone-deaf, and nothing I did made it easy for me to hear the beat of the drum. The squad’s captain would walk next to me and scream, “Left, left, left, right, left!”
I soon learned the only way to keep in step was to watch the person in front of me. I thought I’d found the solution to my problem until the band teacher came up to me. “Keep your head up!”
I tried, oh, I really tried, but in a matter of minutes, I was out of step and Mr. H’s face turned bright red and he threw his clipboard at me. “Why can’t you stay in step and keep your head up?”
I bit my lip and took the constant humiliation. Many nights I left practice in tears. I couldn’t remember why I’d wanted this so much. Looking back, I can see that I wanted to emulate my big sister. In my eyes, she was perfect. I wanted to be special like her. It’s funny now, though. I realize my specialness lies in my uniqueness, not in being like all the others.
One night, I wanted to clock the band teacher in the head with my flagpole. We’d been going over one drill for hours. It was only eight beats long, and I was supposed to pivot, but I kept turning at the wrong spot in the song. To me, it sounded like every other note. Mr. H. got in my face, and screamed. Each time I missed (which was every time), he’d yell out to everyone. “Stop. we have to do it over because Shelly messed up again!”
I could feel my classmates glaring at me. This humiliation only made it worse. Finally, we worked out a secret code. The girl in front of me would wiggle her shoulder when it was time for me to turn. Somehow, I made it through and even received “Most Improved” at the end of my senior year.
To this day, I still have trouble keeping time with anything. If people are singing and clapping, I have to watch their hands or I’m off-beat in a manner of seconds.
Life is much like band practice. There are always people around us who can’t keep in step. I know people who don’t even know their right from their left, figuratively (and if I think hard, probably literally).
High school isn’t the only time where I felt out of sync with those around me. Even though it was a humiliating time in my life, today I realize that I’m so blessed to have a Heavenly Father who loves me no matter what. If he sees me stepping out with my left foot, when all around me, others are starting on the right foot, he lovingly guides me and whispers directions in my ear. “Right, left, right left.”
With his gentle guidance, I don’t feel like such a horrific failure. Teen years are hard no matter what. It certainly doesn’t do anyone any good to humiliate others. Instead, God calls me to demonstrate love and compassion, just as he does to me. Step by step, he shows me the way.
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