I Can’t vs I Haven’t Done It Yet
By Liberty Forrest
Throughout my life, from the time I was a little kid right up until my mother got dementia and she was no longer herself, she told me what I couldn’t do. Okay, there’s some stuff mums are supposed to tell you that you can’t do -like throw yourself off the roof of your three-story house when you’re playing Superman because really, honestly, no doubt about it, you will not be able to fly. No, not even with your beach-towel cape clothes-pinned to the shoulders of your T-shirt. Not even if you’re wearing your lucky underwear.
No, I’m not talking about the kind of “You can’t” that means you’re not allowed for reasons of safety, health etc. I’m talking about the kind that says you won’t be able to do it so don’t even bother trying.
I wanted to try this or that new thing and was always told, “You can’t.” I was told I’d get it wrong or mess it up or simply be unable because I was too stupid. And of course, if I did try and she turned out to be right, I got the ITYS three-course special crammed down my throat, right from “I told you so” for the starter, through to the smug look smothered in superiority for the main course, followed by the rather tart dessert, “You think you know so much.”
So I stopped trying.
The older I got, the more I dared try things that I “wouldn’t be able to do because I wasn’t ‘something’ enough.” Looking back, her words make me smile now because they’re just so ridiculous. How could she know I “couldn’t do” when I hadn’t even tried? But as a kid (and even later as an adult), that never occurred to me. I just believed her because she was my mother.
I was just listening to Fantasie Impromptu Opus 66 in C sharp minor – one of my favorite pieces of music, and one of Chopin’s best known works and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. It’s insanely fast and complicated – until you get to the middle bit which slows and becomes deliciously romantic with one note melting into the next like rich chocolate blends into thick cream.
I was thinking about how I’ve learned that beautiful middle bit with no problem, but am wistfully waiting for the day when I can get the insanely fast parts down, too. Although I can play the millions of notes that run up and down the keyboard, I’m nowhere near fast enough. It feels a bit daunting when I listen to it. But then I remember a summer when I was 19. My mother came upon an ancient piece of sheet music that was her father’s. “Meditation” from the opera, Thais. She said, “Oh, this is beautiful! This was his favorite piece of music. But you could never play it. It’s way too hard.”
I suppose she’d forgotten about some of the extremely complicated and lengthy pieces that my music teacher had me playing on television, radio, at the Calgary Stampede and at various other venues and in competitions when I was as young as 12 or 13. A few weeks later, on a rainy Monday with no one else around, I spent eight hours at the piano. By Tuesday at noon, I had this piece memorized. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as the ones my teacher had given me years earlier. In fact, I thought it was relatively simple. But it was certainly one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever heard.
It was one of very many lessons in my life about the difference between “I can’t” and “I haven’t done it yet.”
What’s kind of funny is that the next time I saw my mother, I couldn’t wait for her to hear that I’d learned this song. I was so excited and thought that – for once – she might actually be proud of me, be pleased with something I’d done.
Without a word, I sat down at the piano while she puttered in the house and I began to play.
I got every note right. I played with lots of feeling (there is no other way to play anything, as far as I’m concerned). When I was finished, I waited for her to be surprised, to be impressed, and to be amazed that I’d learned it flawlessly and so quickly. But she made no comment. She continued puttering with her chores, as if she had not heard me play at all. I asked if she recognized the piece, hoping to get some sort of positive reaction. “No,” came her disinterested reply.
I told her what it was. She said it wasn’t at all familiar and that perhaps there’s some other piece called “Meditation” that my grandfather loved (which, as it turned out, was the case, and that piece was exceptionally simple by comparison and I couldn’t believe she had thought that one would have been too complicated for me!).
At the time, this was all rather upsetting but I can laugh at myself now, and I see how far I’ve come because eventually, with many lessons and a lot of healing, I stopped seeking my mother’s (or anyone else’s) approval.
I’m still carefully picking my way through the speedy part of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu as though I’m walking barefoot through thistles. And sometimes I get impatient because I’m not playing it quickly and the only part I play as it should be done is the slower middle bit. Occasionally, my mother wanders through my head and tells me I can’t do it, but I just smile and whisper to her in the spirit world.
“Yes, I can, Mum. I just haven’t done it…yet.”
I Help Creative Entrepreneurs Develop a Bullet-Proof Mindset To Grab Life by the Throat and Insist on Chasing Their Dreams.