Last night I went with my friend Karina and her friends to sing karaoke at a London pub. I was nervous. Just coming off a long meditation retreat, it would be reasonable to expect that I’d moved beyond such tension. I’m afraid not. Meditation hasn’t taught me to eliminate fear and sadness. Rather it’s shown me that I can hold these feelings more gently. Instead of my vocal terror being smack dab in front of my eyes, I sometimes was able to move it to arm’s distance. Instead of taking a sledgehammer to my fear, I had glimpses of cradling it as a mother would her newborn child.
My heart was still in my throat as I waited for my turn at the microphone. Memories flooded in of another karaoke setting, and of someone precious to me walking out, saying she couldn’t stand listening to me anymore.
What’s true? I love singing. I got muted applause. The person I was hoping would say “Well done” said I was nervous. I’m still alive this morning.
I sang The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan. It’s a lovely song. And an angry song.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
There I was, mic in hand. I watched the screen and the first line of the lyrics appeared. I couldn’t remember the tune. The blue (?) highlighter started moving over the words but my mouth stayed closed. Up pops the second line and I start singing. My brain says, “It’s too low. You’ll never hit the bottom notes.” So midstream I went up an octave and found myself at the top of my vocal range. No way to hold a good tone up there. Once my voice cracked. “Do it!” said my brain. So I dropped back down to the bottom of my vocal range. I waited for the lowest note, cringing that my voice couldn’t reach it … But I did! And I couldn’t have gone a note lower. I thought, “Way da go, Bruce. It took courage to go down.”
Then I started feeling the words. “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” There was no time to reflect on the fear that leads us to put down someone whose experience of life is different from ours. The very human need to protect our version of reality. But I wordlessly felt our common humanity as I sang.
Did I do well? Did I do poorly? In a larger picture, it doesn’t matter. Did I live in the words and the feelings within them? Often yes. Will I keep singing?