The World At My Fingertips, By Jennifer Stafford

staffordMy possibilities are endless; the world is at my fingertips, altered but not damaged. Every day is a gift, a chance, a “shot in the dark,” and a lottery winning that can’t be spent. If my life were completely my own I could not speak with such conviction, but it just so happens that I am a teacher, so it is -totally- not my own. As an educator, I share my gift, my chance, and my “shot in the dark” with hundreds of young people who give back freely and without solicitation.

For many years I dreamed about becoming a music teacher but thought that I could never realize such an aspiration, one that requires such a wide depth of knowledge and so much talent and hard work. I also thought that because of my hands I could never learn to play the piano, a critical component when teaching choral/vocal music.  I hate to admit it, but honestly, this fear almost stopped me. I accepted it for years, thinking, “You just can’t; you lack the orthopedic facility to play, and if you can’t play, you can’t teach.”

And that was that.

Fortunately, however, this did change. Incredibly, what it took to make me see that I really could, as the cliché goes, “do anything that I set my mind to,” was someone else telling me that I could not learn to play, that because of my hands I was less than and should resign. I will never forget that day on the bus in high school….  It was time to schedule for spring classes and I was hesitantly telling a friend that I wanted to take piano class and learn some basics. My friend then, in a very matter-of-fact way, said, “Oh Jenny, you will never be able to play the piano. If you had normal hands you probably could.  You should choose a different class.”

And again, that was that.

I went home that evening feeling both defeated and validated in my original perspective about the piano. But later that night as I told myself the story of what had happened on the bus earlier that day, something happened:  reality hit me like a rock, like a ton of coal, or like a grand piano being pushed out of a ten story building and right on top of my head -Yes you can. You can learn to play the piano.  “Why couldn’t you?” I asked myself.  “You can do everything else –why not piano?” How silly I was before and how lucky I was to have such an oblivious friend!

I went to school the next day and signed up for the semester long class. At the end of the semester instead of finishing with Amazing Grace or The Entertainer (I honestly can’t remember what was in that book anymore) I finished with Beethoven’s  Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia”Op. 27, No. 2 (popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata)….I was a natural.

Now,  I am by no means a virtuosic player, but I am passionate about playing the piano and I can confidently say that I have a gift, that playing for both myself and  my students gives me joy, and that I have a lot of growing to do in the world of classical repertoire. I can also say that after this experience I felt unstoppable and still do. What wonderful timing.

Even though I had lived normally and never had considered my hands as a handicap, this one experience was somehow different and has changed me. It has given me a light, a spark, and a real advantage as a teacher. (Sometimes I feel that it is almost unfair, this rare perspective I am blessed with)  My hands make me vulnerable in a school setting, where name calling is commonplace and physical differences are not always accepted. But because I love myself so dearly, I give my students permission to do the same. (love themselves… and me too!)  I must say that I am on my way to becoming a wonderful role model for my students. As a role model in the making, I offer a changed definition of beauty and of “normal.” For my students who struggle with self- image, this is both remarkable and crucial. How very wonderful.

Even though I am a very young woman, the struggles and pain that brought me to my students give me wisdom and understanding to help them.  I do not just tell my students, “You can do anything!” to have them roll their eyes at me (because “that’s what teachers are supposed to say”).  I tell them “You can do anything!” and they believe me –because I have proof,  because I am proof.

I am not embarrassed anymore; I am proud. I have hit the lottery and the royalties are boundless –they are magical.  The world is at my fingertips; altered, but not damaged.

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