Earlier this summer, I met with a past voice student of mine who just graduated from college. We met the day before she left for Austria where she plans to live, sing, and learn. We talked about life, what it means to be an artist, how to keep growing, and how to stay authentic in a world that likes to streamline. She shared with me that when she was a freshman, a professor handed out paper paint samples to freshman students and asked them to write a word or a short phrase on the back to describe why they sing. This phenomenal young woman has carried that piece of paper with her over the last four years as a reminder of who she is and why she does what she does.
I have been thinking about this ever since. What a brilliant and simple exercise to encourage students to consider the why behind the what of what they are choosing to do.
What word sums up the reason behind what you do? Are you able to keep that focus, or does it sometimes get lost in the shuffle, mixed up in what others are expecting of you or the unattainable expectations you place on yourself?
Growing up, I remember an activity that was often done at the end of the school year where we would all draw a self-portrait, then pass the self-portraits around, writing affirming words on each piece about the person it celebrated. As a young teen, I remember looking back at my self-portraits and being instantly reminded of the good others saw in me…this was a gift, especially in the moments of doubt and questioning.
There are times that our vision and purpose is clear. There are other times that the words and affirmations of others buoy us into the next chapter. There are times that we shine so brightly and our gifts are clear to us and to the world. There are other times that we are called to reflect what we see in others and help them to celebrate and discover.
The last two weeks have been filled with back-to-school preparations in my household. My daughters are attending separate schools for the first time this year, which is a shift for all of us after them being at the same school for several years. We ordered a bigger backpack for my oldest daughter in the preparation of extra things to carry to and from school, but when she put it on, it was too big, her shoulders not wide enough to support the extra space. My youngest has begged to live at the pool, one of her sanctuaries for sure, and she could honestly care less about picking out the “right” notebook or glue stick. There are new bus routes, new schedules, new friends and it happens so quickly.
In the hustle and the stepping back into a routine, I have conversations with both of them about who they are, what they are dreaming. I remind them that the world is filled with people who want to be seen. We all long to be valued. I challenge them to find ways to share, but to also find ways to listen. I ask them to remember their strength, but to be able to listen to someone with a story and experience different than their own.
There is a time to be on the stage and a time to be in the audience. There is a time to solo and a time to realize what beautiful music can be made with a choir. We strive to hold on to our own light, our own truths…we arrive there by the grace of God, but also by the kindness and invitation extended by other people. There is so much to learn when we open light and possibility to others…an open hand, seeing value and possibility in another person and taking time to acknowledge and celebrate it. What beauty we miss when we are so focused on our own path that we forget to hold the door open for someone else.
I am thinking about the countless children who have started a new year, and praying that they figure out not just what they want to do, but why. I pray they have people around them who ask beautiful questions, who encourage them and cheer them on. I am considering how we, as a larger community, can help them to find their way, not by descriptions of right and wrong, but by encouraging them to design their own journey and then walking with them for a period of time.
I am celebrating the people who can let their own light shine brightly, but know how to share abundantly with others, not letting their own light dim the light of anyone else around them.
Pick a season of your life and consider what word you might have written down when asked your reason behind making a choice or following a dream. Has that word or phrase changed? Do you need to go back and reclaim that word? How do you walk through your life? Who are you called to be? How do you engage and celebrate others, not for your own sake, but for theirs?
Tonight, as my daughters sleep after an exhausted but thrilling first day back at school, I am counting on the Light to shine through me, through each of us, and saying a prayer in celebration of the many whys and the journeys that take us through and in and with.