While directing the choir group with one hand, Mr. Shapley wiped the sweat from his shiny baldhead with a handkerchief.
“Let’s start again from the top, people!” he snapped. But before the group could begin, he jumped up.
“You, in the red,” he said, pointing to me. I could feel the eyes and hot breathe of 30 fourth grade kids on the back of my neck.
“Uh, me?” I asked timidly.
“What are you? An alto? A soprano?” he asked.
“Uh, I dunno,” I said.
“Come down here,” he said.
Making my way through the crowd from the stage in the multipurpose room, I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants.
Facing his music easel, he asked me to sing “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.”
With my voice shaking, I sang the first few bars of the song.
“That’s it. Stop!” he said.
I felt like a caged animal as he circled me. Breaking the silence, he said, “I can’t figure out what you are. You’re not a soprano, or an alto,” he said.
“You really don’t belong in the choir at all,” he concluded out loud.
Behind my back, I could hear the snickering of my classmates. At that moment, my heart sank.
I love singing. I sing every day. I feel alive when I sing. I feel happy even when I am in the darkest of places.
I see light when I sing.
For months, he moved me in between the alto and soprano sections. I felt lost. As our group was ramping up for the big school performance, I dreaded weekly choir classes.
Hiding My Voice
For years after, I hid my voice to myself. I sang in my mind – and occasionally – in the shower and car.
My entire “choir trauma” made a brief comeback when my fourth grade daughter had received a school assignment to share in a creative “evening of expression.”
As we reviewed the assignment details, she was determined to write and sing an original song. She would sing a capella in front of hundreds of people, including her classmates.
I flashed to Mr. Shapley and the choir. “Are you sure, sweetie? You could paint something, or write a poem, or create a video?” I asked. “Mom, I love to sing. I’m going to be a star someday. I want to share that with other people,” she explained calmly.
This was my fear. Not her fear. She was bold, fearless.
The big night came for her to perform, and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. The teacher assured me that students were encouraged to refrain from laughing or taunting. I prayed quietly a song of peace in my heart for my little girl on that big stage. During those 60 seconds, I was stunned by her confidence and sweet demeanor.
As she ended her song, the crowd cheered, and she beamed with pride. She found her voice. She is learning who she is, and embracing her passion to sing and perform.
Lullabies of Love
As a mom, I have been singing nursery rhymes and lullabies to my children since before their birth to the present. I cherish these sweet memories of soft skin, warm kisses and love.
According to Sally Goddard Blythe, author of the book Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, “Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs, and rhymes of every culture carry the ‘signature’ melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child’s ear, voice, and brain for language…Neuro-imaging has shown that music involves more than just centralised hotspots in the brain, occupying large swathes on both sides.”
One evening, I recall after singing a bedtime lullaby to my older daughter, she said something profound and powerful:
“Mom, you are such a good singer. I always feel happy when you sing to me.”
Instantly, I felt the pain of the past melt away. That’s all I needed to hear. I knew that my child loved my voice – no matter what.
So now, after more than 30 years, I finally found my voice.
Do you have a childhood memory or experience that has hindered or helped you as an adult? What is your passion that brings you light and love? Where do you “rock out” most – showering, car, beach? Do you dominate the karaoke mic? I’d love to hear!Follow
The tiny fingers clutched the arm of the man’s dark blue flannel shirt.
“Do you have any bananas?” the man asked, while holding his empty plate. “My daughter would like a banana,” he said. The girl with big dark brown eyes and long, tousled curly hair peeked out from behind her father’s back.
Donning aprons and plastic gloves, the volunteers stood behind the counter in awe of the request – almost motionless for what seemed like an eternity. This request seemed so simple, but there was much more to it than that.
“Um, a banana,” my mom replied. “Let us look, OK?”
We rifled through refrigerators and pantries at the shelter, but to our dismay – no bananas. “I am sorry, but we don’t have any bananas,” my mom explained.
The little girl’s head sunk with the news. In my mind, I berated myself: “I have a whole bunch of bananas at home. I would have given her all of them!” Driving back to the warmth of my home to see my own family, and enjoy our Thanksgiving meal, I thought about the true meaning of this moment…
How could I have known the need for bananas? How could I have known that God would teach me a life-long lesson of gratitude? And…
One of compassion.
One of love.
One of humility.
At that moment while serving at the homeless shelter, I would have scaled a banana tree on an island in a far off land. But, I had no banana for this sweet, brown-eyed girl homeless girl.
Caring for Our Bananas
For bananas to be properly grown and harvested they thrive in a warm climate. The time between planting a banana plant and the harvest of the banana bunch is from nine to 12 months – similar to our fetal human growth cycle. The flower on the bananas appears in the sixth or seventh month. Bananas are available throughout the year – they do not have a growing season. They need time to grow and blossom – all year.
Bananas are also a labor-intensive plant that require attention, and cannot be harvested in a plantation environment, or massive production process. They need love – one-by-one, bunch-by-bunch.
Once harvested, bananas must be carefully stored in a temperature-controlled environment and sheltered collectively in order to keep from being attacked by insects, birds and other predators. Much like a family looking for shelter.
A few days after serving at the homeless shelter, I recall every bite of my banana being full of a sweet, moist taste. I stared at the banana like it was a new, foreign piece of food. (For those that read the novel, “Like Water for Chocolate” you’ll get the double meaning).
Bring the Bananas
Most recently, when discussing the possibility of serving the homeless with my nine-year-old daughter this holiday season, she had recalled the story of the girl and the banana from several years back. She then reminded me of something very important: “Don’t forget to bring bananas, Mom.”
I smiled at her thoughtfulness: “Yes, I will buy the whole lot of bananas this year. But I hope the girl is not there,” I said.
“Me too, Mom. I hope she’s not there either,” my daughter chimed. “I hope she found a home,” she said.
So, consider doing a simple task to make someone’s life better. Sweeter. Richer. Better yet, consider climbing that banana tree. I guarantee you’ll regret, if you don’t try.
You have nothing to lose in not climbing that tree – but everything to gain.
Do you have a tender moment of gratitude or kindness that humbled you? What banana tree will you climb during this season or year?Follow