A couple of months ago when my exercise class was asked to do a demonstration for a seniors’ expo, I agreed to do it. It seemed like a life-altering experience since I’d never performed in front of a group before. I had once given a speech at a writers’ conference, and after the first few minutes of nervousness and a shaky voice, I did great. But speaking about a subject I know well is one thing, and doing a new, physical activity is another thing completely, and way out of my comfort zone.
Despite all my walking and exercising, I am not really fit. (When a friend found out about all my physical activities, she asked if I had an ounce of fat left on my body. I could only laugh.) I’m not being self-denigrating when I say I’ve never been particularly graceful or rhythmic. (Except for walking of course. One foot in front of the other — I can do that!) Despite this, I thought it would be good for me to go in front of a crowd with my classmates, do the best I can, and let the mistakes fall where they may — a celebration of who I am at this moment.
The past two months have been a flurry of practice, costume discussions and creations, and more than a few disagreements, followed by a disastrous dress rehearsal and even more upsetting final practice. At one point, I thought of dropping out, but I reminded myself of how important the experience would be. I mean — me? Going in front of a crowd? Performing?
The exhibition was on Saturday. All the participants were asked to get there at noon, though my group wasn’t on until three. So there was plenty of time for nervousness, and I was, just a bit. But then we got on stage, did our number, and . . . that was it. Oddly, although I’d been looking forward to the applause, it never registered. I can’t even remember it.
Afterward, I waited for the triumphant feeling I expected, waited for a shift in myself. Waited for . . . I don’t know what. But nothing was different. Then this morning it dawned on me — as so often happens with life-altering experiences, the changes came in the doing. All those weeks of preparation turned me into the sort of person who could go on stage and give it her all without much ado.
Bad things seem to have an effect all at once, but good things have a slower, less obvious demarcation. (A therapy friend says that this is survival. It’s important to remember the bad things and the bad effects so we can try to keep them from happening again, but good things don’t matter much when it comes to survival.) Still, in my case, I did get the effect I wanted, just not the great emotional payoff. And that’s okay. Emotions fade. Confidence and competence remain forever.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.