Sunday morning church service. I am 15 and it’s my performance debut.
Pastor Joe prays before the offering is received. Upon “amen” I’m supposed to start a picking pattern on my acoustic guitar that will accompany my sisters singing.
But I can’t seem to get my right hand to stop shaking. Turns out, playing in front of an audience isn’t at all like not playing in front of an audience. It must have something to do with 150 pairs of eyeballs staring at me and waiting. The entire absence of sound has been thrust upon my 9th grade shoulders to do what I will with it.
Back in my bedroom practicing the night before, I’d imagined this moment. People were crying. I told them who my inspiration was. But they said, “James Taylor who?” Apparently I’d eclipsed him in a matter of three minutes. Parents were asking me to hold their babies. The mayor marked the day as an official town holiday. A “no-brainer,” he said.
But this? This moment is not that. I have a nervous twitch in my right wrist. Every note I pluck takes the concentration of what I imagine brain surgery requires. I beg God to bump up Jesus’s Second Coming to immediately. I don’t care anymore about waiting till I’ve experienced sexual intercourse. It’s probably dumb anyway.
Somehow I get through the song. I think I may have blacked out. I’m sweating so much they’ve put a lifeguard on duty. I return to my seat and eagerly wait the service’s ending when I can sneak out.
Something strange happens, though. As I’m getting up to leave, people come up to me and say how much they loved it.
“I didn’t know you played guitar.”
“That was really cool.”
I want to ask them if they’re sure it’s me they’re talking about.
But then I actually realize something really important that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life: people don’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. Not only that, but whatever I’m thinking and feeling might not be an accurate reflection of what’s actually happening. (Ok, so, I’m not totally learning this now as a 15 year-old, give me a break. But I do learn it as I continue to hone my craft and perform live.)