There comes a moment in everyone’s life (or most everyone’s life, I hope), when you realize you’ve outdone your teacher. It might be something as simple as the day your parents can no longer help you with your homework. Which may just be because it’s been a couple decades since they last took Algebra, and can’t for the life of them remember what Quadratic Equations are. We all know the famous trope of the fighter or athlete outdoing their coach. And I wonder what it must be like the day that a pianist can play a piece better than his tutor. What do you do when you hit that spot?
There’s a temptation to quit, to say, “Yup, I’ve reached the top, I’ve arrived, all done now, let’s go home.” As if it were the goal. Not unlike having a stated goal of “I will master this” or “I will accomplish that” and then getting it, and standing at the spot you’ve been coveting, and going, “Okay, now what?”
You could set your sights on something new. You can say, “Okay, now I’ll go hit that peak.” Just raise it a little higher, and go. Which is practical, ‘Cause if you have a stated goal, it’s easier to reach. Or you can be a perfectionist like me and say, “I hit this spot, but now I can see all the other flaws, let’s go fix them.” It’s very quantitative. It can be measured. Either against itself or to some transcendant idea.
I’m starting to really miss that moment five years ago when my voice was at its peak. My voice could do stuff. It could fly. I had power and range borne of many hundreds of hours of practice and performance. I might have more expression now, and more experience, and be more polished in my interpretation, but that fitness is gone. I could get it back, with work (I’m thinking of doing it just ‘cause I can), but I don’t know if I’d reach that pinnacle again. But if I do so, it’s less because I want to perfect my voice. I mean, perfecting my voice is a means to an end. What I miss is what I could do with it. I miss that feeling of being utterly, totally free. You could hand me Schubert or Handel or Rachmaninoff or Barber, and I’d be gone. Off singing.
‘Cause hitting the goals in life is nice, but it isn’t everything. It’s not the marker on the trail that you’re happy about, it’s the vista you get when you stand there. It’s fun to mark off how many miles you’ve run, but I think it’s more fun to have a fit body. I was all proud of myself when I read an essay by Paul Tillich and worked out that he was actually arguing in a circle. But as I kinda went, “Now what?” upon finishing my degree, I realized that the real benefit wasn’t the paper in the frame, it was being able to think.
I know that the Apostle Paul told us to run the race to win it, but I think it’s also true that running the race well is just plain fun. When you’re working, when you’re building, when you’re making, when you’re growing, there’s a delight you get that comes no other way. The joy is the process.
Maybe that’s why God took time to create the universe. ‘Cause he was having too much fun.