Driving home from the doctor’s today, my son asked me to play him the music from his favourite Raffi CD. In particular, he asked for tracks fifteen, fourteen, and thirteen in that specific order. Since we don’t have a CD player in our car and since I didn’t know what the songs actually were, I asked him how they went. To my surprise, he sang me one. Tentatively at first, unsure of his abilities, his voice grew stronger and stronger as he immersed himself in the song and the simple pleasure of hearing himself create it. At the end of the first song, I gave him a resounding hooray which led him to sing tracks fourteen, thirteen and any other that he could remember. By the time we arrived home, his voice was steady and clear, sure in its beauty and certain of its desirability.
That evening, as my yoga class opened, the group chanted in harmony, with high and low notes dancing throughout one other until a multitude of voices melded into one. Afterwards, alone in my car, as I sang my lungs out to the radio, it suddenly struck me that I only sing when alone or think that I can’t be heard.
As I thought about this, I remembered a day that I experienced in India years earlier. In a small village in the middle of nowhere, where local children viewed foreigners as spectacular as movie stars and often asked them for their autographs, my friend and I were taken in hand by a group of poor schoolchildren. Speaking about ten words of English between them, they managed to let us know that we were to go with them and that it was non-negotiable.
As we followed them through the unpaved streets, they silently bade us to climb higher and higher, past the village’s hillside houses where women stopped and gaped at us, over well-trod paths and around deeply-entrenched stones that provided support, until we finally reached the top where we were able to see a three hundred and sixty degree panorama of the pristine countryside lying at our feet. As we nursed our winded lungs and weary legs while taking it all in, the children’s leader, dressed in ragged clothes and worn out flip-flops, looked past us and, with a sweeping motion that underscored the prideful emotion in his heart, proclaimed it ‘beautiful’. Uncomprehendingly, we agreed, thinking that this was what they wanted to show us, not realizing that this was only the beginning.
And so, they led us back down the mountain, through the village’s dusty roads, until we reached a river in which clear water ran sure and deep. Descending the steps that led into it, we realized that this was where much of the village life took place: washing, bathing, and, for the children, immersing themselves in the freedom that buoyancy and forgetfulness brings. After creating a human chain onto which we could cling against the river’s current and urging us to bathe, the children’s eight-year old leader beckoned us to the river’s edge. And there, sitting on the rough-hewn stone embankment, in a strong voice free with emotion and unencumbered by its weight, he sang for us.
Over a decade later, the image of the shadow of the man he was about to become remains etched in my mind: a wet boy in a tattered white shirt clinging to his scrawny frame, singing from the heart, unafraid of ridicule or of displaying the emotions he felt to be true, exhibiting a moment of ordinary bravery in an otherwise uneventful day. Coming back to the present, I realize that, as a parent, one of the best things that I can do for my son is to foster in him a feeling of freedom to express his authentic voice, a voice containing his own unique emotions, opinions, and thoughts. So that, whether or not he sings in tune to the rest of the world, alone, or in a crowd, he will always be comfortable expressing what is in his heart, keeping him steady and true while being clear in his feelings and intentions, unfettered by fears of judgement and the unspoken limitations that society sometimes ascribes.