Even before Amanda opened her mouth, I knew it was bad news. The way her hair hung down, covering her face, and the way her sneaker toes scuffed together nervously on my rug, crushing each loop into oblivion.
I unpacked my psychologist's hat. "How are you doing?" I said it searchingly, honestly, leaning toward her eyes, which leaned in the other direction.
"Okay. I have some bad news. I'm going to stop lessons."
Besides my dilated pupils, I think my surprise and dismay were well-hidden. I teased the story out of her. She had started playing clarinet a couple of years ago and liked the camaraderie of band class. Middle school was already highly stressful, and in a few months she'd graduate to a whole new level of pressure. She never had time to practice as much as she'd like, and she felt guilty about it.
And the clincher: she'd auditioned for high school band the previous week, and the director had complimented her on her playing and asked if she took private lessons. Not for clarinet, she said. For piano. Well, he said, piano won't do you much good in a marching band.
So she was here to say goodbye, she finished miserably. She'd stay through the month (two more lessons) but after that, it was time to move on. Her mother's voice broke as she said how much they both would miss me.
Still, I was calm. I focused on her, told her I was proud of her accomplishments and progress. She was so much more confident than the skittish girl
who'd first darkened my doorway, uttering only a handful of words per lesson. And she played beautifully, and she would always play beautifully, even if only for herself.
The comfort of routine beckoned, and we moved on to studying what would now be her last piece. Drill the chromatic scale. Soften the phrase endings. Duet the new section, alternating hands. A game. A bow. Out the door and on with the evening.
When my last lesson ended, I had just enough time to change and dash out the door to yoga class. Late, I waited an eternity until the warmup was complete and I could enter the room. It was not much of a challenge; having endured several sessions of Vinyasa last summer, I hardly broke a sweat in Level 1, though the stretches felt good.
At the last, we lay on our backs, breathing deeply. The instructor dimmed the lights and led us through a relaxation exercise, but I could feel tension, still, a wadded-up ball in the center of my chest. I wondered idly if it would be rude to get up and leave early.
Then I heard a voice: "Let it go." It was the instructor, of course, but it could have been God. Maybe it was God. "Let it go. If you hold on, it will only hurt you. Let it go."
The ball exploded. Tears ran down my face. I allowed myself to grieve the loss of this lovely child who was all grown up, who didn't need me any longer, who wanted to spend her time and energy elsewhere. My insecurities flowed through me: this is the third one this month. No one wants to study piano in a recession. Maybe I should shut down my studio and teach at school full-time. Maybe I should look for another career. Is it too late to find something I'm really good at? Why did it have to be Amanda? Why my best student? Why today? Why ever?
The thoughts swelled through me and then burst gently free, clinging to my hair and wet face before drifting heavenward with the words of the meditation I had long ceased to hear. The tears, too, flowed away, down to the earth. I remained in the middle, empty but free.
Nothing was solved -- nothing ever is, really -- but it felt so good to let go.