How is it we come to know who we are? There are myriad hints and suggestions from the outside world. Some of our most valuable information comes from those who see us for who we really are – most especially when we can’t see ourselves, our vision clouded by wishes and dreams.
Each year St. Mary’s School held a Christmas Pageant for the school and the parish at large. The pageant was performed twice in mid-December. It gave the parish a chance to sing and hear Christmas carols, which wasn’t allowed during Mass in Advent.
The centerpiece of the pageant was, of course, a staging of the Nativity – Mary and Joseph, Shepherds and Angels and a narrator. These roles were cast from the Eighth Grade, those who had previous pageant experience and would know just how it was to be done. The younger students would perform in skits and musical numbers with dancing and singing.
Early in December, the school secretary announced auditions for various ‘musical numbers’. Sister Consolata would host the auditions in the room with the Blue Door; she and several other faculty would evaluate and choose who would participate and the roles they would play.
I was so excited – not only was I Sister Consolata’s pet first grade piano student, I had been taking tap dancing lessons since Kindergarten – my participation was guaranteed.
When audition day came, chairs were set up along the corridor walls outside the Blue Door. Dancers and singers from the other grades waited for their chance to display their abilities. As each student was escorted in through the Blue Door to audition, the other students moved one chair closer.
As I moved chair by chair toward the door, I tried to keep my tap shoes, carefully laced with bright red ribbons, from clunking together in my boot bag. My attention was focused on the little girl ahead of me. She wore a pale pink tutu and satiny ballet slippers. As soon as we moved up a chair, she would get up and move around. She dipped and stretched in the open area of the hallway. Her movements were magical – mesmerizing – grace personified. When she went in to audition, I took my place in the chair closest to the Blue Door, kneeling so I could watch through the window.
Sister Consolata played some vaguely familiar Christmas melody. The little ballerina pointed and pirouetted – a vision in pink perfection and beauty. As the song reached it final strain, she twirled, lifting high on her toes, arms extended gracefully over her head; and she melted to a low bow on the floor as the final chord was struck. Beautiful! Breathtaking!
It was pure ecstasy for the nuns, too. They were immediately on their feet, clapping and exclaiming “a tiny Sugar Plum Fairy for the Pageant!” They surrounded the little girl, blocking her from my view. When the black sea of nuns parted, Sister Consolata walked the ballerina to the door and beckoned me to come in.
I put on my tap shoes quickly and took my place before the panel of sisters. Sister Consolata smiled at me, and I smiled back at her. When she began playing a Christmas melody I had learned in piano lessons, I’m sure I smiled even more broadly and began my tap routine.
I waited for the familiar melody to reach it’s final strain, and when it did, I stopped tapping. I began whirling and wobbling, bending and bobbing, stretching up as high as I could in my patent leather tap shoes, arms flailing overhead, flinging myself to the floor just after the final chord sounded.
No clapping. No exclamations of brilliance. No fairy role in the pageant. Just silence. Sister Consolata came over and helped me untangle myself from the shoe ribbons and walked me to the door. She asked the next child to wait a moment, patted me on the head, and closed the door behind me.
The next day, the roster for who would do what in the pageant was announced. A Sugar Plum Fairy number had been added to the traditional program. I was assigned to the Winter Wonderland number.
I imagine that Sister Consolata, when she closed the door behind me, probably told the others, “I don’t know what that was, but Cheryl really is quite good at tap dancing.” I had danced for her frequently during the three months of my piano lessons. I imagine they accepted her story, waving their collective hands in agreement.
In the end, I danced my heart out with 5 other tap dancers dressed in red and white costumes – in shiny, heavy, tap shoes laced with red ribbons – sporting my mother’s Persian Melon red lipstick – loving every minute of the performance and the audience’s applause that followed.
It is a gift to be truly seen, known, and championed by another no matter how ridiculous our behavior. Such faith gives us permission to find and live into the space of who we are truly meant to be.