I’m sitting in a mostly empty and very large high school auditorium. I’m pretty comfortable in such places, because I spent a lot of my adolescence and young adult years in auditoriums–usually singing or acting, and, later, sometimes speaking.
This time, though, it’s you who needs to be here. I’m just a choir mom, squirreled away on the top left row, so far away I can barely pick out your topknot and hot pink headband among the other talented and eager 5th and 6th graders you are with. You all are the 2018 5th and 6th grade All-County Choir for Jefferson County, which means that all of you have a more than decent ability to put over a tune, and some of you will turn out to be quite, quite good. Some days I think you might be one of those…but, as my former teacher Harry says, “There is time enough for finding out how good she is, Julie…for now, the love of the music is enough.”
He’s smart, that Harry. Made me a better singer, and more importantly, helped me be a better human, and I hope your life story will hold at least one fine educator and mentor such as he. And you do love the music. Even the very hard musical work you are doing as part of this choir.
And I’m so glad for that–because if you are anything like your mama (and, for better or worse, you are), the music is sometimes going to save you. The full rich harmonies. The melodies that dig deep under your skin and remind you of something bigger than yourself. The lyrics that help you express joy or heartache. The hooks that catch you fast and firm and leave you seat-dancing in the car or with a spring in your step that wasn’t there before. The working until you sweat on a difficult piece, with a vocal small group or choir, so hard that you all feel like you might give up at any moment, and then, suddenly, it comes together, and…gold. Pure gold.
You all have such young and just-forming voices, and I’m so impressed with the way the director is coaching the very best out of you. She’s tough. And I can see the work wearing on you during breaks, but I can also see it giving you life. And this is what I am most excited about.
The first thing you said to me when I picked you up from school was, “Mommy, we were supposed to have an intruder drill today. (long pause) But, we didn’t. And I don’t know why. They just didn’t do it.”
My first thought was the impulse to fight back the nausea I always feel when I hear “intruder drill.” Because honestly–what the absolute hell?
My second thought was, “I bet I know why you didn’t have that intruder drill. Because today, not far from here, in our beautiful Kentucky, there was (another) school shooting, and some kids are dead, and more are injured and everyone is scared and anxious, and by the time your school started that other shooting was already happening and already hitting the news and so it was not the day for a drill about such things. Not when it was real, unfolding as you went to your classroom and started your day.”
I did not say these things to you. To you, I simply and calmly said, “Well, I don’t know either baby, not for sure,” and you let it go.
And now here you are, singing–beautifully and hopefully–with a bunch of other kids and all is well.
Except it’s not, really. Because I join every parent of a school-aged child in the scared and anxious. Because any day, any time, it could be your school, and even as my fingers shake as I type that, I know the truth–your school, any school.
I know and love people who think gun control is the answer to the problem of mass shootings in this country–some who just want tighter restrictions, some who hate all guns, some who…gah! Never mind–it runs the gamut. I know and love people who think better mental health care is the answer. I know and love people for whom it is solely a political issue, and I know and love people for whom it is solely a moral issue.
For me, it is not entirely any of these things. It’s bigger than any of it. And it’s destroying so much. And I am sick to death of the constant arguing over which one it is instead of some sort of real and proactive and helpful conversation or solution. The loss of compromise, and constructive and compassionate discourse, in this country has made your mama’s heart hurt for quite a while now.
But all that aside, tonight I’m just a scared mama. Wishing I had answers. Fearing for the world I’ve delivered you to and what it might do to you. And then I think of what this world, this life, has already done to you and my heart breaks all the more. Because you are so lovely and so brave and so mighty…and you do not deserve what you’ve already known in your life.
And then I remember exactly how brave you really are. And how compassionate. And how insightful. And I hear you and your peers learning to sing better together and I think, “Breathe, Jules…all is not lost. Just like you always say…all is not lost.”
Earlier tonight, your director didn’t feel as if you and your peers were really giving it your all. “Y’all seem unsure,” she said, “like you don’t know if you’re supposed to sing. Like you might be scared to.”
And then she said, “Look, if you know the song, sing it. Loud. Just sing. We do not have time for you to be scared!”
My heart almost burst. “We do not have time for you to be scared!”
Damn if that’s not amazing vocal instruction. And even better life instruction. I mean, sure, a little healthy fear in the face of an icy road that leads to caution–that’s cool. But Maddy–otherwise? We do not have time for fear.
We do not. We just have time to live. And to try to do that the best way we know how. With all the heartache that has been and that will be. With all the joy that has been and that will be. We just have time live.
Sing bravely, sweet girl. I know you can. Because you live so very bravely.
I’m so very proud of you. And think I’m the luckiest for getting to be YOUR mom.