Some moments in your life are defining even though you don’t know it at the time. I have quite a few significant moments, but one that my kids ask me to tell them about over and over is something that to this day lingers as one of my happiest days and also one of my biggest regrets.
A long time ago, I was a theater major in school. We had just finished a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. A director from an up-and-coming Philadelphia theater company approached the head of our department after our show ended and asked for a few of us to come to an audition for understudy roles in the production of “Company” that they were doing a couple of months after ours. Long story short, I got the gig. It was a fantastic opportunity to break out of the school zone, meet some people in the industry and break into a larger theater community.
I was thrilled, and scared, and totally out of my league. I attended rehearsals and got to perform on the same stage as top-notch professionals, knowing all along that the chance that I would get to go on in the role was slim to none.
When I had signed on for this, I told them that there was ONE day out of the entire run that I would not be available (you can probably already see where this is going...). My good friend at the time was getting married and I was playing piano for her wedding. They said that was fine and I went on my merry way. The show started, and it ran, and no one called, and on wedding day we all drove to New Jersey and had a fantastic day. I caught the bouquet and on the way home, my boyfriend of four years and I got engaged to be married a year later. It was a great, great day.
When we got back to the apartment later that night, I cued up my answering machine (nobody had cell phones back then - can you believe it?)...
“Hello Krysta, this is Such-and-Such calling from the Arden Theater. Such and Such is sick and can’t go on tonight. We need you to fill in.”
*CUE STOMACH DROP, NAUSIA AND GENERAL LIGHTHEADENESS*
When was this call????? Oh my God it was 5 hours ago.
And then there were 3 more calls, each one a bit more panicked than the last.
I started crying. What had started out as a greatest day ever was turning into a nightmare. They called me and I wasn’t there. There was no way to reach me. This was the ONE day I had said I couldn’t perform. The ONE day.
After an entire sleepless night of panic, I called the theater in the morning to explain myself and try to make amends for what I saw as my completely unprofessional behavior and lack of commitment. In the end, another actress in the show covered for the actress that was out sick, and HER understudy, a woman by the name of Jill Scott went on instead. I logically know that this particular show was not the sole reason she went on to be successful, but it is fitting and largely significant to me that Jill Scott went on in subsequent years to become a well known singer, actress and poet. (My kids always really enjoy this part of the story and say things like "Wow Mommy - you got to SING with her???" Yes kids. Yes I did.)
So everything worked out ok. The show finished it's run and I never got called to go on again. No big deal.
Except is was a big deal... to me. It was such a big deal that it solidified my already building shame for a good long while. Not long after this (and several other interesting experiences that I'll save for another time), I retreated into my timid cocoon of shame and for many years I incubated.
Life keeps moving and you keep learning lessons. I appreciate that my kids see this story as a fairy tale of almost epic proportions. For me it is much deeper than that. While I lived with the shame of my missed opportunity for a long, long time, to this day I am not ashamed of keeping the commitment to my friend. It speaks to my character in the many years since. It is also not lost on me that one of the biggest, happiest and most significant decisions of my life happened on that very same day.
Life is never a straight path. There are always bumps and turns and compromises and choices, and you have your guiding set of values through it all. Mine led me to the wonderful life that I have today. It led me to my friends and my husband and my kids and my impactful job and my art.
Today I frequent this very same theater company. I love them. I love their commitment to integrity and craftsmanship and I love that they are a part of my kids’ lives. I take them there 2-3 times a year and their productions have had a significant impact on the way they see the world. I love this theater also because (without knowing it at all) they played a part in defining my life in a way that I never saw coming. They helped define my values in a way that I didn't realize would be a central tenant of my life until many, many years later.
Every time I tell this story to my kids, I still have a little pang of regret that I never got to perform for real on that stage. And every time I hear Jill Scott sing I remember that story and have a moment of wondering about the what ifs in my life. But then I pause, and I look at the beautiful faces of my children and the incredible life I’ve built with my husband and I know that this is what was meant to be.
Sometimes what we see as our worst moments at the time, actually turn out to be the most important things that happen to us. These moments define us and help us clarify what we value. Looking back at this instance, it is obvious to me now that the value I place on friendship and family has always been and will always be the most important thing in my life.
Every time I visit this theater I am filled with gratitude for the part they played in helping define who I am, and every time I hear Jill Scott sing I think about how very wonderful my life has become. It took me some time to get here, but my life really has turned out to be golden in so many ways.
© 2017 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.