|Photo by Simon Scott via Flickr|
I’m in fourth grade when my teacher says we need to participate in the solo and ensemble contest and my classmates laugh at me because I want to sing a solo. I know there’s music in my soul, but my timid voice won’t carry the breath that lets the notes soar true out of my mouth. So I sing with an octet instead, and I stand on the end harmonizing to Michael Row the Boat Ashore just hoping that my voice doesn’t swamp the boat. I don’t bring up that singing notion again.
Eighth grade and the music is still pressing against my teeth, begging to be let out. Six years of piano lessons and countless recital pieces but it’s my voice that begs to be heard. So I audition for the school musical and I tell the teacher I don’t think that was my best shot, because the nerves get to me and my voice wavers and in my heart I know I can do this. And I am either very convincing or he gives me another try...the details fade with time but I do remember the stage and the microphone and the first few bars of my solo soaring out in the darkened auditorium.
It’s the end of my sophomore year; I audition for the school’s concert choir. I don’t make it. I go to music camp that summer and in the fall I audition again and I am in. I don’t know what drives me to keep pushing at this thing. At Christmastime I sing “I wonder as I wander…” clear and strong but there’s that ONE note that always trips me up and I start to dread it, start to falter for the fear of it. And on performance night a choir mate tells me that my solo almost sounded good that night. Her cattiness sits like a splinter in my heart, and even though I sing Handel for contests and receive good marks, that sharp doubt never leaves again. (And dare I tell of the moment I’m oh so not proud of at the Junior Senior banquet, she with her out of town date and her handmade dress when I tell her she almost looks pretty that night. When revenge tastes sweet for two seconds until I realize the bitter bite it masks and that really I haven’t won anything.)
I audition for my college Chamber Choir because what else can I do but try? I am shocked when I make it in, and spend the next several years convinced that it was a mistake, that this director so highly talented and respected confused my voice with that of the girl next to me. Some days I am the only alto in rehearsal. On those days my voice fails me and I can’t sing for the nerves and the certainty that I don’t belong with these people who are music majors and minors and plotting their professional careers. I can almost hear the collective eye roll coming from the other choir members. After two years I drop out. I don’t let anyone hear my voice again. But years later, when the surgery for the maybe-cancer takes it from me for a time, I cry.
I have a deeper-down dream than singing. A dream that I’ve held so close I’m scared to tell it for fear of the eye rolls and the ‘who does she think she is’ that wants to put me in my place. One failure, one silly third grade contest where I put my dreams on the line and poured my heart onto paper was enough to bury it down in the dark where the fear of not being enough grows roots and tangles hope. Sometimes it is the things we want the most that scare us numb with the fear of hitting the wrong notes, of it not being beautiful.
Fear steals our voice, stands on the stage and tells us to go trembling back to the shadows behind the curtains. It steals our successes and says that the voices telling us to jump only want to see us fall. It hushes the Spirit, slapping down the tally sheet of flaws and reminding us of every failure so carefully inscribed. Fear lies, and if you brush aside the tally sheet and look for hope you find the Spirit waiting. Telling you to sing, write, paint, dance, and create with all your heart and to be filled with joy in the doing.