Learning to sing

National Poetry Month, Day 26  //  “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.” That’s one of the directions for singing that appeared in John Wesley’s Select Hymns in 1761. It’s also good direction for living. Two centuries later, William W. Purkey expanded the sentiment poetically, “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, / Love like you’ll never be hurt, / Sing like there’s nobody listening, / And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

My father groomed me to live as if everybody’s watching, especially him. Woe to me if I didn’t meet his expectations, adopt his priorities, reflect his values. Years after he died, I was still trying to do that as I tried to meet the expectations of teachers, neighbors, employers, anyone whom I thought to have any authority over me, real or imagined. It took me a long time to nail that coffin closed. Even so, his echoes remained audible, though I learned how to turn down the volume.

Now I’m learning to sing. Not literally, of course; I inflict that lack of gift on only the most trustworthy and generous in forgiving. But I’m living into the season of life that allows a kind of graceful eccentricity, an authenticity of self-expression that is deeply liberating. It’s a season when, as Carrie Newcomer puts it, I begin to feel my True Heart open.

“Sing,” by Carrie Newcomer (b. 1958)

Songs were never meant to be left to “the professionals.”
Never mind the person who long ago shamed you
Or told you to just mouth the words.
Trust me,
If you spend today, humming in the shower,
Whistling when picking out carrots,
Singing as you wash dishes
Or when you are walking in the woods
Or crossing at the traffic light,
You might just begin to feel
Your True Heart
You might surprise yourself
By doing a little side two step and slide,
as you walk in the door,
And possibly, very possibly
You will get to the end of the day,
With nothing else to add beyond

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