I checked off one of my ‘bucket list’ items Sunday April 13th. I sang “The Impossible Dream” from the musical, Man of La Mancha, at an upscale piano bar in Santa Fe.
That may not sound like much to some, but the event, as it turned out, was symbolically important for me. What I mean is, I forgot the song lyrics twice and had to wing it, but nevertheless finished the song, sang it with great gusto, and treasured the moment. My imperfection turned out to be the richest part of my bucket list experience. Let me tell you why.
Santa Fe calls itself “The City Different.” It’s over-priced and self-consciously pretentious — precisely the factors that fuel “shoulds” and life driven by perfectionism.
I’m not picking on Santa Fe. What I’m recognizing in its pretentiousness is myself.
I was raised in a religious environment where ‘perfect’ was the baseline, not the finish line. There was nothing special about doing something perfectly. Perfect is average where it is the norm, where perfection is expected. For the conscientious, that translates into hopeless over-achievers who see themselves below-average. It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to see that in a finite world of fallible humans, this is a formula for a world of psychic pain.
Singing was important in that religious fellowship. It was all acappella. Four-part harmony. No instrumental accompaniment of any kind. Just human voices.
That fellowship was also strictly patriarchal, so congregational singing was led exclusively by men. That meant a quirk of biology offered boys with singing talent early grooming for public “song leading.”
I began ‘leading singing’ in Oakland, CA., almost before I could read. I had a big voice even as a child so I was deemed a ‘natural.’
One incident from my childhood that connects with my recent bucket list experience in Santa Fe stands out in my mind. I was about eight years old. It was an all-day 5th Sunday Singing at the Central Oakland Church of Christ with dinner-on-the-grounds and singing visitors from all over the Bay Area and a long roster of male song leaders. I sat on the front row, center aisle seat, waiting my turn to lead the packed auditorium of singers.
I can’t remember the gospel song I chose that day. What I remember is I pitched my song too high, and couldn’t sing the high notes in the chorus. Since no mechanical instruments were allowed, pitching the key for a song was the leader’s responsibility from memory and guess and luck. Big job for an eight year-old in front of a packed auditorium. I got it wrong.
I struggled through the requisite three verses, mortified over my imperfection in front of God and Jesus, the angels and everybody, and returned to my seat front and center angry and humiliated and mentally whipping myself.
My Dad saw my display of self-flagellation. And because I was front and center, so did everyone else.
In front of everybody, He took me outside.
It wasn’t to comfort me. It was to jerk my tail over embarrassing him and the ‘program’ by my drama.
Dad was “shoulding” all over me . . . but He was “shoulding” all over himself, too. He was projecting his felt peer-pressure, embarrassed because his prodigy son didn’t handle failure ‘perfectly’.
I thought of that childhood experience the Sunday night I sang The Impossible Dream in Santa Fe and forgot the lyrics twice. I remembered how much I needed a nurturing hug back when I was a ‘failed’ eight year old and so I gave the Man-Child in me that hug in Santa Fe sixty-two years later.
Truth is, forgetting lyrics or pitching a song too high are NOT big deals. But growing down far enough into one’s Soul to lighten-up over “shoulds” is.
It’s a pity it takes a lifetime to grow into one’s unique zebra stripes, a pity that we must travel most of our road before we figure out what counts.
Don McLean, of “Bye, Bye American Pie” fame, wrote a love song which contains the lines:
“The Book of Life is brief,
And when the page is read
All but love is dead;
That is my belief.”
It’s my belief too. I still “should” on myself now and then. But I’m learning to lighten up. My Scotties, even better than Don McLean, show me the way when Burnsie is on my lap and hugs around my neck with his paws and when both Albie and Burnsie are at the door to greet me when I come home and do their exuberant ‘welcome home dance’. What they show me is what counts: “… all but love is dead” in the real Book of Life; in the end only love matters, not shoulds.
And love — most of all self-love — is not performance; it’s the spontaneous song of the soul unfolding to the warmth of loving and being loved.
It’s no accident the resurrection of Easter Sunday comes AFTER the life and the suffering of Christ. In my case, at least, new beginnings required long and painful gestation, a life of growing down into myself, not up.
I shall think of that truth this Easter Sunday. Not eggs and bunnies, but personal truth of rolling away the stone entombing me to life of “shoulds”. My song will be of ‘resurrection’ to welcome awareness of living my own life– the Life that always wanted to live in me.
Thank you, Vanessie’s, for helping me with my bucket list. And most of all, thank you for opportunity to give that Boy in me and my Dad the hug we missed long ago.
The Song Behind Songs
As there is motive behind the act
and power behind the throne,
So there is behind songs,
on sheet music of the Soul,
a Song of Songs:
Music of the Marrow,
Melody of Man in tune,
Song of One among The Many.
To sing the Song behind Songs
full voice in tune and rhyme and rhythm
is to add the notes to the chorus of life
for which we were made.
Song of the Soul,
Aria to Harmony in Singularity,
Notes made notable in the
Score of Life.
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine