Tag Archives: sing

The Invincible Soul

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou (Letter to My Daughter, 2009)

With apologies to my wife, I have a crush on Maya Angelou, so when Apple resurrected her inimitable voice reading excerpts from her poem, Human Family, during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics to remind us that “we are more alike, my friends, then we are unalike,” I was happy.  (If you’d like to listen to her read the full poem without the iPhone sales pitch, click HERE.)

I can’t remember my introduction to Angelou, although it was probably her reading of On the Pulse of Morning for the Clinton inauguration in 1993.  What I can remember is that something led me to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of seven autobiographies that is worth it just for the title (although she snagged it from a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem).  But the book itself, my goodness, it sucker punched my heart.  It tells of Angelou’s first seventeen years of life set in Arkansas, St. Louis, and California.  Her story is interesting, sure, but as a white man now with ties to all three areas, it was (and continues to be) heart-wrenching.

If you didn’t know, Angelou’s childhood included being a victim of rape, racism, and sexism, and if that wasn’t enough, abandonment, guilt, and homelessness, all culminating in giving birth to a son at age sixteen.  And then there was the rest of her life, where she experienced fame and prestige as actor and activist, author and poet, composer and director, professor and speaker—among other things.  As the epigraph proclaims, her life is a testament to the idea that it is not required that difficult circumstances diminish your soul.

Or, more poetically stated, though caged, you can always sing.

In 2014, I was thrilled to see that Angelou was scheduled to speak at a Pepperdine event, and with my wife’s blessing, purchased three (expensive) tickets so that I could introduce Maya Angelou to my daughters, too.  Sadly, the event was canceled due to her poor health not long before she passed on from this life.

I thought about crying.

But I chose to sing.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

Well, I did it. On Saturday night, I sang a solo in public for the very first time. This caught me up to most of the world, so no grand accomplishment, but it sure was for me. Our church hosted a low- and at times off-key talent show to raise money for those of us traveling to Kenya this summer and somewhere between the expansive definition of “talent” and guilt for not doing much for the trip so far I decided that this was a fine time to break my forty-five year silence. I chose “Forever and Ever Amen” by Randy Travis, partly because I will love my wife forever and ever (amen) and partly because I have a bass voice and thought this song choice reduced the risk of total humiliation. My kind friend, Shelby, graciously agreed to accompany on guitar, and had she not, I totally would have chickened out.

My problem began in church at age six. I was sitting by my mother and belting out the chorus of a favorite song when a couple in the pew in front of us turned and gave me a dirty look as if to say, “Let us put this nicely—you are annoying the hell out of us, so shut up.” Setting aside the fact that annoying the hell out of someone is arguably a net spiritual benefit to the annoyed, I shut up. I shut up for a decade.

Fast forward to sophomore year of high school. While sitting in “chapel” at my small, Christian high school, I accidentally broke my sincere vow never to let anyone hear me sing and my friend, John Mark, said, “You have a good voice: Why don’t you sing more?” That one comment changed my world. Okay, I didn’t start a band or anything, but that one comment returned my voice, just like a single criticism took it away, and I started singing again, allowing my voice to blend into the music of the world.

It took another thirty years (I may be a slow learner), but two days ago, John Mark’s encouragement even allowed me to offer the world a song on my own.

You should never underestimate the power of a single act of criticism or encouragement.