I have always loved to sing. There wasn’t a song on the radio I didn’t know, no theme song that was safe from my loud interpretation. My desire to make noise got so overwhelming that my parents banged on bathroom doors when I was bellowing in the shower, and my brother would plug his ears with a cringe during our car rides. My body felt like it would explode if I couldn’t fill the world up with sound, so I did.
Despite the pain of hearing me imitate Whitney Houston, my parents put me in voice lessons to work on my technique. My instructor was a cool old hippie named Skip, who thought teaching me to read music was boring, so we sang the same Les Miserables songs every day until I understood what my voice could do. Soon, I was doing recitals and competitions, letting the bigness of my voice explode into the spaces like never before. Nothing could compare to the feeling of singing and watching parents react to a little girl who had no right to be so loud. Singing was the first time I discovered confidence. It also became the first time I learned to laugh at myself for survival.
By sixth grade I was ready to shine. I was in the choir and excited to be in my very first school musical, solo and all. The older kids packed a lot of talent (one is now a Broadway veteran) and I was anxious to look cool and not twelve. One day during rehearsal we received a message from the front office, which I jumped up to deliver to our choir director. I grabbed the note, inexplicably thinking this would be my moment to show how cool and chill I was, but in the most lame way imaginable. Nervously, I navigated down the risers, around backpacks and between chairs to where she sat at the piano. After handing her the note, I turned and began the treacherous climb back to my seat at the top. To this day I remember thinking go slowly, don’t trip. But what does a preteen do better than tripping? Two steps away from my seat my foot caught on a backpack, I frantically propelled myself forward into my chair, then FLIPPED over it with a crash!
The room erupted in the kind of laughter I imagine you see in the audience during really good SNL skit. The coolest kid in the room just happened to be seated to my left, and he was shaking in his chair, rocking back and forth with a cackle. The choir director was slapping her piano, hollering like a kid. Everyone was too amused to even check if I was breathing. In the span of 30 seconds I decided if I wanted to get out of that room – dare I say middle school – alive I could not cry. The crazy thing? I didn’t experience the urge to feel sorry for myself. I wanted to laugh, because it was hilarious. So, I stayed laying there and let myself laugh at what happened just as hard as everyone else was. I don’t know if my laughter made anyone see me differently, or if it had an affect on my social status, but I do know I’ve taken that moment with me as a reminder to laugh when there are no other options.
What strikes me about this memory now is how in line it is with what I’ve always wanted; that desire to fill the world up with sound was perfectly captured that day. Yes, it was at my expense, but it was still beautiful. After we finished laughing, two classmates helped me up, patted me on my back, and we all sang a little louder. My nervousness was gone from that day on. You can’t be caught up in pretending to be cool after everyone has seen you crash and burn. I was more approachable, less afraid to falter, and more at ease.
“Prepare for mirth, for mirth becomes a feast.” – William Shakespeare
Laughter is healing. A good belly laugh after a misstep is humbling, and the chorus of joy it can create is powerful. Sometimes we can’t laugh; I experience days when the pain of living can drown out any emotion beyond emptiness. I laugh when I can, make funny memories when my spirit is up for it, so that after the emptiness subsides I’ll have the grit to push on. For me, laughter has become a better reminder than pain that I can make it.
Laugh when you can. Fill your world up with the noise you want to hear.