Pride and Middle School Band: A Cringe-Worthy Lesson in Gratefulness

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“I am so proud to announce that we have two people from our band who have been selected for All-State this year!”

My heart raced. I was sitting in the band room at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School (“LBJ, All the Way!”), struggling to get comfortable in a hard plastic chair in the old school’s musty bandroom. My hands were sweaty and I closed my eyes, pleading with God in a rapid, unspoken prayer for my name to be called.

But truth be told, I wasn’t really praying for my name to be called. No, I was absolutely sure my name would be called. Praying just seemed like the right thing to do at the time, at least to my snotty-little preteen brain.

You see, I had been told for the last 6-months that I was a shoe-in for All-State band. I had practiced all Summer (showing impressive dedication for a 13-year old, if I do say so myself), I was taking lessons from the best teacher in our county, and I had auditioned on my brand new Yanagisawa A-991 Alto Saxophone, the kind of horn the pros played on.

Oh yeah, and I was a cocky little son-of-a-gun who thought he was the hottest thing to hit the band room since Sousa himself.

“What are you so nervous about?” my fellow budding saxophonist asked me, “you know you made it.”

I had auditioned months before this moment. I had been practicing for over a year. Practically 10% of my whole life had been leading up to this moment. I couldn’t wait to hear the applause of all my bandmates.

“Our two All-State representatives are...Erica and Neil!”

I opened my eyes and looked across the room to see the look of sheer joy on the faces of my classmates. The room hooped and hollered. As much as I remember about that day, I don’t remember how I reacted in the moment.

But whatever hurt I felt I had to bury, and quick. I had to lock eyes with Erica and smile.

Why? Because Erica (names changed to protect the innocent) was my middle school girlfriend.
I don’t just mean like a “Tee-hee, I like Erica,” middle school girlfriend. I mean we were the couple in our classes. Everyone knew it. Our teachers knew it. Our parents knew it. We were a thing.

And here I was, watching her enjoy the moment I had worked so hard for.

Talk about a pride killer.

Middle school is such a funny couple of years. When I look back as an adult, all my problems seem so trivial. Yet at the same time, those moments carry immense weight. It’s the time where we’re finally breaking free from the rigid structure of childhood and starting to test who we want to be as adults. We’re profoundly awkward, but looking back, I can see the early signs of who I would be as a person all these years later.

Good and bad traits alike.

Unfortunately, one of those traits for me is my pride.

I’ve always had a bit of a confidence streak in me (I think it comes with being a younger brother). Sometimes, it serves me well (fake it till you make, anyone?), but other times it can get me in trouble.

“I got this.”

“I did it!”

“I don’t need help.”

Lots of I’s, not many you’s.

I think this is a feeling that lots of New Yorkers can relate to as well. After all, the most iconic lyric ever written about the city expounds on the virtues of self-reliance and pride:

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

But it’s this exact attitude that Christ commands us to avoid. It’s one of those (let’s face it, grimace-inducing) moments where we’re instructed to go against the world.

“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” - Deut. 8:17-18

Somehow, I can’t imagine Sinatra singing “If I can make it there, it’s because of the Lord my God, who gave me the ability to survive New York City.”

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The temptation for many of us New Yorkers take all credit for our success is strong, particularly since so many of us feel that we’ve overcome great odds to get here. We took on a challenge that many of our peers didn’t have the guts to do.

But what a strong testament it would be to our peers if we turned around and attributed everything we have to God.

When I think about that concept, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. It seems to tiptoe the line of televangelist “prosperity gospel.” That if we only just followed God’s commands, we’ll experience success and Earthly wealth.

However, it’s really the exact opposite. Take it from Job (whose struggles put even the most embarrassing of our middle school memories to shame):

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.[a]
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.””

-Job 1:20-21

Everything we have on Earth is simply being entrusted to us temporarily. Our successes are not our own. Even our losses are not losses, as we came into this world with nothing anyway. How can you be mad at losing something that wasn’t yours to begin with?

If only middle school Andrew had paid more attention during Sunday services. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have let my pride get the best of me. That day back in 8th grade ended with us walking back to the band room to retrieve our instruments (as we did everyday), only to be greeted at the door by Erica’s mom, holding the biggest bunch of “Congrats!” balloons I’ve ever seen in my life.

I faked a smile and croaked out a “Yaaaaaay!” At least they didn’t ask me to hold them for her…

Submitted by Andrew Littlefield, Midtown Parish Member.

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