I stand at the podium, sweaty hands clinging to my notes. My right knee shakes a little. I shift my weight and it stops. My mouth feels dry and my heart is pounding. I take a deep breath, look down at my notes, and then look up again at the faces staring back.
I open my mouth and I speak.
Later, after the service is done and the coffee urns have been drained and people have left to carry on with what remains of their Sunday, my mom helps me gather my things.
“Did you ever imagine her doing this?” a woman asks her.
I don’t know if “this” means writing or speaking in public or giving a homily. It doesn’t really matter, though; the answer would be the same regardless.
“Not in a million years,” my mom answers.
After a slight pause, she asks me, “Did you? Did you ever imagine yourself doing this?”
Not in a million years.
I sit at the desk in our make-shift office upstairs. On the wall in front of me are Star Wars wall decals, remnants of the time not so long ago when this room was Teddy’s bedroom. He and Jackson share a bedroom now, but we haven’t gotten around to getting rid of the lightsaber-wielding Jedis on the wall.
I sit at the computer, stare at Yoda, and I type. I write a sentence, maybe a paragraph. I delete it all a minute later. I scroll through Facebook. I look at photos, seeking inspiration. Tell me what to write, I plead.
The keys feel awkward, and my words feel unsteady. I haven’t written much lately. Summer, procrastination, and lack of motivation are largely to blame. For a while, the break from writing felt good, if not slightly indulgent, like a long nap or warm chocolate chip cookie. Lately though, the not-writing is suffocating and hollow at the same time. I never thought I would be one of those people who needed to write to feel whole.
Not in a million years.
I read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. She writes about how she always knew she wanted to be a writer. I realize, with dejected exasperation, that to be successful in one’s field, you have to be one of the “always knew” people. I always knew I wanted to be a writer/teacher/photographer/coach/musician/lawyer/engineer, I hear people say. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory. I hear stories on the news about the tennis star, the gymnast, the singer who was competing, practicing, performing almost as soon as she could walk.
And I wonder about those of us who didn’t always know? What about those of us for whom a calling came as a quiet revelation, more like a soft tap on the shoulder than a knock upside the head? What about the late bloomers? Those of us for whom 10,000 hours is an impracticality, if not an impossibility? What about the not-in-a-million-years surprises?
I look at all these people who say they always knew, the ones who discovered their passion early and have spent a lifetime nurturing it, the ones who have “made it,” with amazement and envy. What trajectory might my writing career have taken if I had studied creative writing or literature in college? What doors might be open if I had gotten an earlier start? How much better, more skillful would my writing be if I were closer to making a dent in that 10,000 hour tally sheet?
It frustrates me that I didn’t get an earlier start, that I perpetually feel like an outsider looking in, that there is so much catching up to do. Why bother?, I ask myself when the ground to cover seems insurmountable.
And the answer is always the same: why not?
I remind myself that it doesn’t matter when or where we start, only that we start. It doesn’t matter if we always knew or are surprised as all get-out by the unexpected tap on the shoulder. It doesn’t matter if we perfect our craft or whether we make it even close to 10,000 hours, only that we show up when we can, how we can.
I remember the words of Mary Oliver, the ones I read after I gave the homily at my church on Sunday (something that I never in a million years thought I would do): “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I don’t want to hide behind the fear. I don’t want to cower from the clumsiness. I don’t want to ignore the gentle tapping on my shoulder.
So I stand behind the podium and I speak. The faces in the crowd temper the fear. I sit down and I write. The photos propel me through the unsteady clickety-clacking of words. I show up and I practice. I flounder and I fall. I try again. Not because I ever expect to “make it” (whatever that even means), but because life is wild and precious. And a million years ends sometime.
This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography. The premise is simple: Angie sends me a couple of photos and I write a blog post based on one of the photos. It is always fascinating to see what words her images bring out of me. Not only have Angie’s photos served as inspiration for several blog posts over the past three years, but they have also inspired certain chapters in Open Boxes and I am grateful that her photos will also be used as creative inspiration for various online writing & creativity workshops.