A wise man once told me, “Aware people are happy people.” I have questioned the authenticity of this pearl from time to time – especially at the height of my performance anxiety.
Remember the description of my first panic attack? ‘I opened my mouth to sing, and nothing came out. Not a sound. My throat choked. . . There was a roaring in my ears that I can only compare to the rush of an avalanche. My vision went blurry, my muscles went numb, my skin was stinging, and I stumbled forward.’
Now, imagine this happening at a funeral.
Let me set the stage a little. I was raised Church of Christ. If you’re unfamiliar with that denomination, all you need to know is that we sang without any instrumental accompaniment – a cappella. No piano. No organ. No guitar. No orchestra. And certainly no drums. Not even a choir. The voices of the congregation were our only instruments.
When I was in my early 20’s, I was asked to sing a solo at the funeral of a man who attended my childhood church. I was flattered. I had sweet memories of him, and I could think of no better way to say goodbye. I should have thought a little harder.
I had sung at funerals before, but never by myself, and never in front of the mourners. In past scenarios, there was a small room – more like a large cigar box, really – tucked away where the singers hid behind a curtain. I always assumed it was set up that way so that the focus remained on the departed. Anything else would resemble a performance, which seemed improper timing. Whatever the reason, it was more than fine by me.
But for this particular funeral, the attending minister had called “dibs” on my cigar box, and arranged for me to sing from the front of the room.
With everyone’s tearful eyes on me.
Right next to the coffin.
I gotta tell you, I wish I had told that minister:
But I didn’t. Per my usual, I was compliant; and when I got to the part where I ‘stumbled forward,’ I broke my fall by slapping my sweaty palm on the coffin. I felt the stand beneath the wooden box begin to wobble. . .
And then nothing happened. You thought I was going to say the coffin fell to the ground, didn’t you? Thank goodness my life doesn’t resemble a Frank Oz film that closely.
Although I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself, the situation provided a good cover. People assumed I was just overcome with emotion, and got choked up.
Oh, I choked alright.
Once our awareness is activated, we are forever changed. All of the sudden we know that something, in fact almost anything could go wrong. Something like, falling at a funeral. Or tripping on your dress on your way up the stairs to accept an Academy Award.
But we also know – although it gets buried beneath the fear – that something, in fact almost anything good could happen too. Like, winning an Academy Award. Or getting to wear a Dior Haute Couture dress upon which to trip. Or being asked to honor someone’s life by singing at their funeral.
Otherwise, we’d give up altogether.
As an adult, I am beginning to believe that awareness isn’t nearly as all-of-the-sudden as it seems. Awareness is a process. Awareness is an opportunity. And perhaps, aware people really are happy people. . .
– Anita, Noted in Nashville
TO BE CONTINUED . . . for the last time, I promise.
*This is part of my “Fear Itself” Series. To catch up on past posts, click here.