Wednesday, April 13, 2005

52. Listening

(continued from 51)

One Shabbat morning at the end of services, the man sitting right in front of me turned around.

"You have a beautiful voice," he said.

I tried to respond, but words didn't come out. No one had ever said this to me before, and I'm not pretending to be humble for the sake of the story. I blended perfectly, they all told me, was great, did a wonderful job--but never that particular phrase about the sound from inside, unprocessed.

My parents surely would have said it if I had ever let them hear me. A chorus is perfect camouflage for someone who needs to be in the spotlight but is too chicken to admit it. I mastered the art of being heard while remaining hidden; I was happiest when no one recognized my voice. I learned to retreat in this way even when front and center in a quartet, an amazing feat of invisibility. I was quite aware that I was a living, breathing metaphor for being stuck in life, work, and relationships, but people still applauded and I went home when it was over and felt great. I loved music and it was just a hobby, after all, so I made sure it was fun. There are certainly worse ways to avoid self-reflection.

I got better over time. I became a lot more honest with myself, braver, confident, and even sang solos whenever my ego got the better of my terror. But I was often surprised that anyone wanted to listen. To me I sounded very ordinary, because I knew much of the sound was locked somewhere in mitzrayim, a narrow place, still trapped on shore.

"Thank you," I finally remembered to answer.

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