Thirteen years ago I was part of a community choir in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the beginning of my journey back to reclaiming my voice. After a profound experience on the corner of North Decatur Road and Clairmont, (another story I will tell soon) where that longing to sing bubbled up from my hidden soul, I wondered how I could begin the process of singing. As I pondered this dilemna, I remember sitting at a playground watching my daughter Brianna play with a group of 4 year olds and I became involved in a conversation with another woman there watching her grand-daughter. This woman told me about a community choir that she was involved in. I wondered if this was the place to start and I asked her for the information of who/when/where.
I found out that to be part of this choir you had to audition. It seems that this is always part of the process in saying ‘yes’. You become aware that you have a longing, a desire, a dream. And you start to believe that maybe you can go in the direction of that dream, and then you are given your first task. Oh – I thought this might come more easily. You mean, I might have to work toward this dream? You mean, I might have to take risks?
The dream can end right there. There is a choice I had to make in that moment, do I make myself vulnerable and audition and sound like crap? Or do I just tuck that stupid idea of a dream back into the abyss and push it down so like a bobbing apple it will keep popping up the rest of my life only to remind me of what I didn’t try?
So, I auditioned.
To me, I sounded horrible. My voice was frail and weak. It sounded like thin paper. Lots of cracks. Lots of whispery sounds where there was no ‘tone’. But I did it anyways.
And by some bizarre chance, I got in.
Tuesday nights became my night to go to choir. Many Tuesday nights I was tired and didn’t want to go. But, it was the ‘next step’….the given task in front of me at that present moment. So I went. I learned to sing Faure’s Requiem, Mozart, Bach, Mendelsohn and many other classical choral works. I learned the beauty of music and that I could be a part of it. I also learned to run to the bathroom as fast as I could. Somehow the music evoked a lot of pain in me. It was so beautiful, the music that is. The music touched my pain and I would become short of breath and would struggle to stand straight. So, in those moments I would run. Run to a bathroom stall and sob. Then I’d wash my face and go back. No one said anything. There was just a quiet understanding and feeling of love in the room. I will always be grateful to those people for the gift of quiet presence they gave me in those raw moments.
So, needless to say, I didn’t feel very ‘together’ during those times. I was incredibly vulnerable and a bit of a mess. I felt insecure with my voice, insecure with new friendships, insecure with learning musical scores that were beyond me, and insecure with my pain.
And then this happened.
We were a ‘white’ choir. Mostly. There was one black guy. A gay, black guy! You’ve got to understand. In Atlanta the percentage of the population is more than 50% the black community. However many parts of the city are very segregated and I found myself in a largely Caucasian crowd. But in our choir there was this one black, gay guy. A very good looking, funny, energetic and engaging human being.
Normally the men and women sat in separate sections – bass/tenor/alto and soprano. But one night, our conductor mixed us all up and I ended up sitting by this beautiful man. I do not remember his name, but I remember his presence.
We had never spoken to each other before that and we didn’t really speak to each other again after that night, so it still remains somewhat of a mystery why he then did what he did.
As we were all taking our seats and when he found out he was sitting next to me, he stood up and faced the whole group, about 60 people. And he loudly proclaimed, ‘I am sitting by the most beautiful woman here.’ Needless to say, I was very stunned, embarrassed and shocked. What? Hello? Excuse me? The woman who is a complete mess?
And then half-way through the rehearsal, he not only did it again, he did it two more times. Three times in all he stood up and proclaimed that he was so happy to sit by the most beautiful woman that night.
As I drove home that evening and the van came to a stop at a red light, I began to shake. My body shook and shook and shook. And I had one of the most transformational moments of my life to that point. I heard a whisper…the beginning of many whispers that would transform my whole life. The whisper said … that was me.... That’s how I feel about you. I wanted you to know. And I wanted to tell you 3 times.
You are precious
You are valuable
You are so valuable that I would proclaim you to strangers
I would stand up for you
I would defend you
I treasure you.
In that moment, and I know I could never explain this or defend this in any way, but I felt a physical transformation in my body – like the very chemicals that made me me – somehow shifted. That as I received and embraced the basic truth of my intrinsic value as a human being, I was changed. In that moment of for the first time believing in my value, I was changed.
That moment became the centre of my soul. The truth that all other truths were built upon. It has been the epicenter of the past 13 years. It has been the core value from which I see now every other human being. The wonder of a life.
The blessed irony of that moment was also from whom the message came. Someone that perhaps represented those our culture has put as a minority, the ones on the outside of the circle. And that was the one who spoke my greatest truth. Somehow that has always made me laugh……and reminds me of the beautiful ways of Love. Ways that I began to learn to recognize over the following years, and I felt like I began an adventure. And adventure of listening. An adventure of listening for the impossible, the wondrous, the magical, the mystery, the whisper of the One who makes my heart sing.