One of the great, invisible tragedies of being alive in 21st century America is that somewhere along the line you’ll probably get convinced you can’t sing.
You may come to distrust the many ways your voice longs to express itself, believing that what comes out might not be good enough. Or worse, that it’ll go unheard. You may suffer experiences from which you’ll conclude that suppressing your voice is a better option—choking off the flow, the content and form of your love put to song, your grief put to song—because when you exposed those wild, unedited parts of yourself, you got laughed at. You got weird looks. You got a bad grade. You didn’t get invited back. And you mistook this to be your problem, when, in fact, it was—is—the problem of the culture within which you were becoming yourself.
You were a child, so you didn’t realize that you were under assault by the lunatic worship of mastery in America. You were innocent. Open and trusting, as children are and should be. But now you’re an adult, and perhaps you still buy it. This is the tragedy, and ultimately you are responsible for it. You can’t blame the gagging of your soul on the culture after a certain point. Once you wake up and realize you’re in chains, it’s on you to seize the key on your bedside table and free yourself immediately. Which is to say: it’s on you to sing.
Why bother? Is it really a tragedy? It’s just singing, after all. We have musicians for that, right? Leave it to the professionals.
Well, let’s wonder about it. What happens when you don’t sing, when you choose not to express yourself, exactly as you are right here and now? When the world asks, “Do you have a song for us?” and you answer “No.”
You condemn yourself to a purgatory in which the day of your expression is always tomorrow, never today. You wait to sing until you are a master, until your song will be flawless and un-critique-able. In so doing, you prevent yourself from ever becoming a master, a master of yourself—of your own unique song—because you never sing. There is no other way to become a master of your song than to start singing it. You confuse mastery with control and perfection, when in fact it is nothing more than the willingness to listen deeply for what’s sincere in you and to then sing that, opening, regardless of who’s there and what they might think of what comes out, or of you. You don’t sing: you never get to find your songs. Instead, you wait.
When you silence your song, you constrain yourself within the tight corral of your own conditioned mind, afraid of what your song might be, even more afraid of what it won’t be. And those around you who are singing their songs: you separate yourself from them by glamorizing them, or resenting them, perhaps even putting them down in the very same way you are scared you’ll be put down if you open your mouth to give your song the life it is begging for, the life it deserves.
When you do not sing, you keep the rest of us from getting to know you—know your voice, a voice that has never been heard ever before in the immeasurably vast history of the cosmos and will never be heard again after you die, which could be any day, any moment. How can we love you fully unless we know you, know your voice? If you choose not to sing, we are left with your silence. We have to do the work of filling in the gaps, guessing at what you’re song might’ve been if you’d chosen to sing. Who are you, all of you? We want to know, those of us who recognize the tragedy for what it is.
There’s more, so much more. When your song goes unsung, you keep yourself from knowing yourself—knowing how your voice can sound, what it can do. You become a stranger to certain parts of yourself, certain sounds and the emotions those sounds can carry.
When you abort your soul’s longing to sing, you are choosing to distrust us, the ones surrounding you, distrust that we will love you and accept you and be grateful for whatever your song turns out to be. You are living as if we wouldn’t honor you and celebrate you exactly as you are. You are choosing to believe that we are not capable of holding you in the way that you deserve. Please, give us the chance.
When you believe that you cannot sing, you are hoarding yourself. You are not giving your songs away, freely, unconditionally, those songs which only you can give, those songs which someone might be desperately needing right now. Creation needs your songs just as much as you need the air, the water, the earth and all its bounty. Creation does not deprive you of that which you need to survive. Why do you deprive creation of your songs? Why were you given a voice if not to sing yourself back to that which gave it to you?
None of this is your fault. Don’t berate yourself for all those times you silenced your song—that’s just another way of silencing yourself. Rather, sing the grief that comes when you wake, the grief of realizing the the depth and length of the prison sentence you’ve been serving for a so-called crime that you never actually got to commit, the crime of being yourself. Sing for what has been lost, what could’ve been but never was, and then sing for this, the long-arriving guest arrived at last: your voice, yourself.
And when you do sing, only to get laughed at or teased, rest assured that you are doing the good, hard work of building a new world that is unafraid of sincerity. Remember that one of the costs of bringing that world into being is that the beauty and power of your song may not get recognized as the profound gift that it is. Remember that the ones laughing and teasing are probably asleep, chained, dreaming of the very freedom that you are at last beginning to live.