The voice is alto, and it is a voice that has never fully understood its limits. It belts out the first strains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to the church audience. Three hundred eyes widen. It is not a singing voice. I know this now as I stand and sing a tribute to my mom. But as a child–I did NOT know this. I sang all the time. It started when I was five. My best friend, who lived three houses down the block, suddenly died. To help me understand, my mother coached me to say the word “leukemia” and showed me how to pray. But I asked if I could sing instead, and Mom said that would be a great way to honor my friend and to express my sadness.
As I waded through this first experience with grief, I went to our basement, and I remember walking in circles around that musty room as I sang endless, self-composed ditties–the kind that can only come from a child. At the end of my long concert, my mom hugged me, and said I had done a beautiful job. Her words of praise ignited my passion to sing. I began singing endless nonsense songs daily, not only in our basement, but each night in the tiled shower where my voice could reverberate. While I didn’t know how to carry a tune, Mom encouraged me to keep singing. I did. Just her calm presence made me pretty certain I was a child virtuoso.
At some point in this first journey through grief, Mom played a record for me, and I discovered a song that resonated deeply in my child’s soul. It was her favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I listened endlessly to Judy Garland giving flight to these words. In the weeks that followed, I experienced the inner joys of karaoke, and my drive to imitate a great voice consumed my waking hours. In no time I was convinced I could do a credible imitation of the inimitable Judy Garland.
Now there was no stopping me. I offered to sing my rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to my first-grade class. Soon I was performing the song solo in all the elementary choir classes. I was lauded by fellow six-year-olds and frequently told I could grow up to be Disney’s next Annette Funicello. Even now I recall that magical sense that something significant was unfolding in me. Of course, it was.
But it was not my talent for singing. It would be several years before I realized that I did not have a singing voice and that eyes often widened when I sang loudly and off-key. But by then, the dream of being a pop song star had faded. By then, I had something far more important than a singing voice—I had a strong human voice. I had been gently nudged forward by my mom. She believed in me and she ushered me down a path that would help me find an authentic and confident personal voice. My own words. Mom never stopped encouraging me to find them and share them. She always cheered me forward–even when I sang too loudly or off-key.
To this day I still make up crazy ditties and sing loudly in a tiled shower. But it is only recently, when my mom left this physical earth, that I realized what a gift it is to have had a woman in your life who believes in you, and one who has helped your voice to take flight. Thank you, Mom.