“If you stumble make it part of the dance.” Author Unknown
My eldest daughter took dance lessons from the time that she was five or six years old. She had a kind of natural talent from the beginning, catching on to the steps and generally reveling in the art of using her body as a kind of poetry. She was a shy child but somehow being on the stage transformed her. She invariably began each performance with her head down and a serious look on her face as though she was trying to convince herself that everything was going to be okay. With the first beat of the music she would pop her head back, hold her chin up high, and flash a glorious smile. Then she became the very image of a swan moving with grace and beauty.
Her first recital as a toddler foretold of the kind of transformation that she would invariably undergo each time she performed in the future. She and her fellow dance students had learned a fairly simple routine centered around a song called “Tattle Tail Duck.” The girls were tiny fluffs of bright yellow with their rubber “duckie” colored leotards, tutus and feathery headdresses. They were quite adorable as they shuffled and pointed their toes while twirling in circle and singing with abandon. It was a somewhat chaotic scene as each girl seemed to be dancing to her own tune but my daughter was quite the performer having shed her usual inhibitions. She delighted those of us in her family with her entertaining expressions and total command of the steps. She was in her element.
Her performance was going well until the velcro on her tutu failed and the netting fell into a puddle of yellow around her feet. Without missing a single step or changing the happy expression on her face she somehow freed her feet from the obstacle and continued as though nothing had happened. If she was upset or embarrassed her face did not betray such thoughts. Instead her photogenic smile and look of confidence never faded. When the routine was over she gracefully bent down, picked up the tutu and raised it above her head with a flourish as she bowed. The crowd went wild with applause and laughter and she ended up receiving a standing ovation. That was when I knew for certain that she was already a warrior, a mighty woman who would meet life’s challenges with aplomb.
It sometimes feels as though we live in a perfectionist society in which everyone is being watched in the hopes of catching them in moments in which they stumble. Once that happens the public seems to remember the flaw that occurred unwilling to allow the individual to forget the mistake. Such tendencies are particularly prevalent in politics and show business. We tend to hold lapses against people forever rather than applauding the ways they attempt overcome their deficiencies. Repentance may clean the slate with God, but we humans hold suspicions and grudges far too often.
In my mind there is nothing quite as glorious as watching someone take the wreckage of a situation or a lifetime and turn it around. I have always been of the opinion that as long as there is breath in a person it is not too late to change and adapt. I delight in stories of people who find their way out of bad situations, and I am a firm believer in the idea of forgiveness. It is just as important to reward good behavior as it is to sometimes punish the bad. I truly believe that it is possible for even an horrific individual to embrace penance and genuinely strive to become better.
Most of us make small mistakes here and there. We hopefully learn from them, change move on. We pray that the bumbling versions of ourselves will graciously be forgotten by those who witnessed us at our worst. We dread the thought that our past sins will corner us into living self fulfilling prophecies. We want to be able to make our stumbles a positive part of the choreography of our lives.
Our decisions to own our mistakes and find ways of turning them into victories should be a source of applause. Sadly so much of our society now deems admissions of wrong thinking to be a sign of weakness rather than the evidence of strength that is actually is. We tend to spurn those who express contrition and want to change. We wrongly attribute an unwillingness to own up to our flaws as a sign of greatness and character, when the opposite is actually the case.
We often don’t do enough to applaud the heroism of those who take positive steps to correct the slip ups and blunders in their lives. We act as though each of our actions is a still photograph that is forever unchangeable when the reality is that we are fluid and changing from one moment to the next. Very little in life is immutable and if it were some of the greatest stories in history might never have been allowed to happen. Failure has been a moving force from the beginning of time. It has been the catalyst for remarkable feats that changed the world. The importance of a stumble is not to be found in that instant but in the glory of what comes next when a person decides to change from a wormy caterpillar to a magnificent butterfly, or when a little girl becomes a swan rather than a duck.