I was out for my morning walk this morning, and I passed by an elementary school on my way. They were having a band practice, but it looked like the only people that were practicing were the clarinet players. They were all lined up against the fence, facing out towards the street. It sounded like they were warming up. I don’t know if somebody told them they had to go and practice where they wouldn’t bother anybody, but maybe that’s why they were aiming their clarinet sounds out towards the street, where it wouldn’t interfere with the students inside the school studying something important like plate tectonics or home economics.
I remembered I took a summer school class in fourth grade in home economics. My friend convinced me it would be a good idea, because we basically would be able to cook simple things (like a fourth grader could) like grilled cheeses and stuff. I remember that my friend and me were the only two guys in the class. It was a pity that we hadn’t discovered yet how cool girls were. We did learn how easy it was to cook a grilled cheese, so we wouldn’t have to bother our moms again. Except to yell at us to clean up our grilled cheese mess.
So as I was walking past this school, I looked over and thought I recognized one of the girls that was practicing clarinet. It was one of those times where you see somebody, and you can’t really place them immediately. But the circumstances don’t allow for you to go over and ask them where you know them from, either because you are too shy or they are on a bus going in the opposite direction. That is what it was like this morning. And I’m pretty sure she felt the same thing, because she was looking at me like she knew me.
As I kept turning my head back toward the group of girls, she raised her hand, but only about halfway. Like she wanted to wave, but she either didn’t know if I would reciprocate, or if her friends would think she was strange for waving at some weird guy walking by on the other side of the street. When she waved, I smiled and mimicked playing the clarinet, to signal my approval. Her friends all giggled at the exchange.
As I walked away, I realized that people go through three stages in life. The first stage, as children, we are outgoing and expressive and don’t hold anything back. Then when we go through those uncomfortable years, we learn that sometimes expressing ourselves is dangerous, scary, and brings much more emotional pain that pleasure. So we learn to have to choose when it’s safe to express ourselves, and when we’d better just stay silent. Then by the time we turn into adults, we have pretty much given up on freely expressing ourselves. We reserve that only for times we are with close friends, or inebriated, or both.
When you realize that everybody feels the same way, it can make it easier to be the first one. That young girl this morning, flanked by her clarinet-wielding friends, was the first to make a move, and look what happened. It turned into a positive, happy exchange. When you start to understand that all exchanges require that somebody make the first move, you can realize the power that comes from being that person. When you go first, and give the other person the wonderful gift of feeling the safety of self-expression, you will notice wonderful things happen. Your confidence will soar, your self-esteem will rise, and you happiness will skyrocket.
Whether you realize it or not, that little kid that wants to scream in pleasure whenever he or she sees something cool still lives inside you. When you remember to forget all those times it seemed like expressing yourself was emotionally painful, you can experience the joy of being totally and completely human. You will be able to let that little kid out again. And there is no fear in that.