Last night I watched my daughter get up in front of hundreds of people sit down at a keyboard and do a beautiful rendition of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.
Part of what amazes me about this is not just that my daughter has a beautiful voice, or that she is continually teaching herself new music, new instruments. Or that she has the courage to do this, exactly. You see what amazes me most, is just how courageous she is in general and that with no announcement she just decided to do this thing. You see she is a pretty private and somewhat reserved person. Outgoing, social, yes but an introvert who has pretty clear ideas, and boundaries, about who she lets into her inner world. Her music is a rich part of that inner world, particularly her singing. While she will sing along to the music on spotify and join in an occasional karaoke battle at home she doesn’t sing when asked, even when it is just she and I. So it surprised and delighted me that she chose on her own, to try out for the honor of performing at this ceremony.
Singing is such an intimate revealing of self. It is different from playing an instrument. I have done both and the first time I was to sing in public I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt – almost naked! The flute, which was my instrument, somehow provided an intermediary between me and the music – the world and me. But singing? That’s just me, a raw expression of self.
I believe my daughter feels the same way and so, when she was singing to that crowd and I saw my mother, sister and a few friends with tears in their eyes, I was grateful that they had the opportunity to experience my daughter in a new way. I thought of what a gift, my daughter’s courage is, to share herself with the world in this way. She inspires me; inspires me to continue to show up in the world as whom I am, to have the courage to be vulnerable and real.
Of course, this is just one of the many lessons I learn from my daughter (and son) on a day-to-day basis. I am in awe of them. I hear people make many derisive comments about teenagers and say they worry about the future of our society because of some trait they have decided that the younger generation possesses or doesn’t possess. This is not my experience. My teenagers give me hope for the future. I watch how they navigate this time in their lives and I am inspired by their dynamic, zestful approach to figuring out who they are and how they want to live as adults in the world. This crazy time of exploration on a cocktail of hormones, with an unprecedented flood of information and messages, bombarding them about whom they should be, how they should act, whom they should love, can be such an overwhelming time for teenagers. And sure, my kids get overwhelmed sometimes. But I honor and respect the way they sort it out, the way they most of the time stay true to themselves and what they know is important to them.
They are kind and compassionate and whip smart. When they want to know or understand something about the world, they look it up, figure it out, sort, process and integrate it into their sense of self. It isn’t just them. I see many of their friends doing similar things. They are courageous and energetic, curious and I love watching them explore and engage.
Mostly, I am grateful to them and to their friends. I am grateful that they continue to change and grow and try new things. That they remind me on a daily basis to get busy, engage, be true to myself, don’t let others dictate what I do or don’t do. I think my daughter would say I taught them that. She has told me that she loves the way I don’t care what others think (meaning, I care but I won’t change who I am because of it). But that kind of self-love takes support and re-enforcement. When my daughter gets up in front of that crowd, or my son (unbeknownst to me) puts in an audition tape for the regional honor band, it encourages me to take risks I might not otherwise have the courage to do. Step a little further out in the world and try something new that I have secretly wanted to try but was too afraid of looking silly, or not being good at it.
So thank you dear children, for your curiosity and compassion. For being my biggest spiritual teachers and my most loving fans. Thank you for doing this dance with me, for your music and laughter and hard work. But most of all, thank you for your courage to really get your hands messy and give this life all you’ve got.