One, two, three….long pause & I open my mouth to sing. My lips stretch, my tongue stabs at the air but no words come out, only halting gasps; short, silent cries for escape. My eyes dart back and forth searching for a familiar face, a nod of approval, a smile even from a stranger. Anything that will give me the strength I need. But none comes, only blank stares and raised eyebrows. I am on my own then?
I rock back on my heals and resist the urge to fall back in a dead faint. I could fake it, pass out and be carried from this torture I willingly placed myself in. Perhaps the looks of sympathy that have slowly turned into awkward stares would come to a halt. Maybe they would feel shame for judging me. But no, people have no shame.
I see only two options, run in terror or stay in terror. If I run, I will never forgive myself because although I can outrun this moment, I am not fast enough to outdistance the shame. Yet if I stay the shame could be far worse, judging by the color creeping into my cheeks and the frowns being sent my way. I will not walk away with my head held high. In the end I think I will be ashamed of myself whatever I do.
I swallow hard, hoping to dislodge the fear in my throat. Maybe it worked because suddenly sound is being made. Is that my voice? That quivering, shaking vibration that sounds more wounded animal than human? Is THIS my version of a song?! Is this how I will inspire the masses? Is this all I have in me?! If it is, maybe it is better to have nothing at all!
One, two, three words, a strangled tune and the buzzing, untuned strum of my guitar. Then a few more. I see a few smiles, whether they are in support of me or just having a good laugh at my expense, I will never know. But I press on. Nine, ten, eleven…the music (or whatever this sound is) is flowing rapidly now. Twenty six, twenty seven….I am singing! Not gasping, not choking and not passing out, no longer frozen in fear…I AM SINGING! Perhaps not well or even very pleasantly but there it is!
And I no longer see the people in front of me- whether they smile or frown, laugh or judge, because in this moment I have faced my fear and I am free. I am not ashamed though I have things to be ashamed of, I am not embarrassed though I have good reason to be, I am happy! I have looked into the eyes of my own failure and found it can not own me or strangle me any longer. I have searched for approval, found none and realized that it’s okay. And I sang!
Looking back on these memories, I realize that our greatest freedom is most often encountered in the places where we face our greatest fear, where we come to terms with our terror and we embrace the risk. Our successes are not always found in succeeding, but are ALWAYS encountered when we shake hands with our weakness, wrap our arms around our fears and let God whisper in our ear “It’s okay. I’m proud of you.”
So don’t let the fall stop you from jumping! You may just find yourself landing face first in the best place you could ever be- free.