Beauty Has Saved Me Over and Over

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Heather Caliri -Beauty Has Saved Me3

To my great surprise, I discovered I was a high soprano in Grade 8.

I’d thought before that I was a mezzo (or middle) soprano, but your voice changes a lot as you grow. What my choir director and I had assumed was a falsetto, turned out to be where my voice had the most power. Discovering this felt like climbing to retrieve a box from a crawl space and realizing someone had converted it into a finished third floor.

Our church youth choir put on a performance of scenes from Godspell that year. I got to be John the Baptist. I led the cast into the church down the center aisle, singing Prepare ye the way of the Lord, way up in my register—the first high solo I’d ever had. The lofty notes resonated in my skull. It felt like I rang a bell in my head, and then blasted it into the world. There’s something exhilarating about filling a room with just your voice. It’s a super-power.

Nearly ten years later at the same church, I started singing on the worship team. In that moment, I was suffering a serious depression, was at odds with my family, disgusted with myself and suspected my faith was an unhealthy coping mechanism. I wasn’t sure if I could stay a Christian at all.

My mom had signed me up for the team before she and I fell out. Then I found out that I’d have to show up at the church at 6am on Sundays. I was not an early bird. I assumed I’d quit after one practice.

But showing up and singing every week kept me alive (along with dancing and therapy and anti-depressants and God’s grace.) I sang words I could hardly believe and the singing of them saved me. I had a lousy attitude and I was still allowed to show up and participate in creating beauty. I could hear power God had given me for free, resonate in my skull. And, with other people, I could make something beautiful and ethereal fill the room as if it had mass and weight.

Even at my lowest, I could sense I was empowering all those in the pews in a way I myself desperately needed encouragement. It is a strange thing to feel confident about reaching an audience when you can barely look yourself in the eye. At its best, that’s stage presence: the ability to connect with a group of people and lead them beyond your own capabilities.

I’ve always been a lonesome person; both comfortable being alone and also worried that I feel easier in my own company than with others. When I sing in front of people, some of that unease drops away. I feel able to connect to them in a way I don’t normally feel in a roomful of strangers.

I’ve been writing for twenty years now. I know my craft. I know how to knit and purl a sentence, a paragraph, a narrative. I’ve learned the grit necessary to face the blank page and meet a deadline.

But resonating with an audience? It has never felt as natural as when I’m singing.

I think some of that feeling is a lie I tell myself. I assume I’m not resonating with people at all, or that if I were different, I would resonate better. Every writer struggles with this endless litany of failings and fears.

When I write, I have learned to set aside that voice. But when I publish and reread, or try to grow my influence, I wonder if I’m just terribly broken in some way, unable to connect to other people like I want to connect to them.

I’ve written on this struggle to give myself permission to make my writing voice big before. Idelette commented how, in her experience, our influence doesn’t grow by trying harder.

I believe her. Mostly. Also, she might be lying through her teeth. I mean, trying hard is my safe place, so whatisshetalkingabout?

The lie about not resonating has two sides: One side tells me “resonating” is something I’m simply not good at. The other side tells me to keep working harder.

Can I sing some words to you I don’t quite believe yet? I think growing our resonance is like going up into a crawlspace and discovering someone has converted it into another floor. I think we discover capacity at the right time and the right place, and not a moment sooner, and not with an ounce of extra effort. I do not think it’s in our control. And I don’t think it looks how we assume it should.

I believe this even when I suspect it’s a lie.

Until I have learned that particular song by heart, here’s what I will do with my voice. I will concentrate on how good it feels to sing. I will face whatever audience I have and try to bless them. I will try to ring that bell in my head and work with other singers to create something ethereal and empowering. I will give myself over to the mystery of the one fact I do know in my marrow: that beauty has saved me over and over when I was almost dead.

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who loves British murder mysteries, advice columns, and hot breakfasts. She uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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  • Bekah Martin

    Oh how my spirit needed to hear these words. It’s easy to lean into the lies that say this method is nothing but “faking it till you make it”. The lies that tell of our weakness that spiral into guilt.

    This was so eloquently written. In moments when words pour from our finger tips that feel like hypocrisy , it’s here we can find the words are a gift to us just as much as the blessing they may give others. They speak truth over us time and again even when we don’t feel it resonate.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you my sister! You surely have blessed someone in the anxiety ridden hours of early morning.

    • yeah–“faking it till you make it” can be tricky. I’ve done it and had it shred me, and done it and had it build me up. I think a lot of the difference is letting go of the outcome, and making it most about living as a free child of God, regardless of what results you get. If it’s about practicing bravery, no matter how the bravery turns out, then it’s easy to “succeed” even if you fail like crazy 🙂

  • God, in His infinite grace and mercy, did not make me a soprano — if He had, I’m quite sure that I would be insufferable.

    I love the image of finding new room in “the house” and the way you’ve described this super-power resonating in your skull. I think we’re “saved” by doing whatever it is God has created us to do, and it makes me smile to know that you sing beautifully as well as writing beautifully.

    • Sopranos are a special breed for sure 🙂 Yes, salvation on earth for me has been very much about using my voice in all kinds of ways.

  • Amy Hunt

    You/we resonate through truth-telling, as raw and real as it may be. Here, you resonate. Keep being real and loosing any idea of what you “shouldn’t” reveal about yourself, as you give permission for others to be real when they see that there aren’t any rules.

    • Thank you, Amy. There are so few rules, and so many less then I used to think!

  • Leah Abraham

    I love this so much because so much of this is also my story (the singing, the writing, the resonance). Singing words I don’t believe in yet with you.

    • Ha! I didn’t know you sang as well. Giving you a little fist-bump from down south 🙂

  • This is so powerful, Heather. I’m going to hold onto this part, especially: “I think we discover capacity at the right time and the right place, and not a moment sooner, and not with an ounce of extra effort. I do not think it’s in our control. And I don’t think it looks how we assume it should.” Thank you for this…

  • Sandy Hay

    When I was at my lowest of lowest God played music deep inside me. The words just kept playing in my head. I’d sing a loud alto all over the house and in my car and in my newly discovered church. The words became real ad alive and took a newer meaning that brought me life. Now writing…well that’s another story;).

    • Well, it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. I see you using your voice ALREADY, Sandy, which is as it should be 🙂

  • “I think we discover capacity at the right time and the right place, and not a moment sooner, and not with an ounce of extra effort.” Oh I love this, and I do so hope it to be true! <3

  • Andrea Christiansen

    I feel like I’ve been called out in the audience by the actress on the stage. It’s bold and I like it! How’s that for resonating? I really appreciate what you have to say about writing not being about trying harder. I’m so much happier with my writings when they just flow and I ride them out like a calling, not like a task. Thank you for expressing this idea so well!

    • YES: a calling. It’s a huge difference. We can be ambitious and intense without assuming all the results rely on us.

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    Oh my goodness, this speaks to me. I had an experience working for a radio station where I was able to, as you put it, “feel confident about reaching an audience when [I could] barely look [myself] in the eye.” These are powerful words about singing and writing and freedom and letting go. That last paragraph I will carry with me as my refrain as well.

    • Thank you, Lizzie 🙂 It’s an amazing thing to realize that we don’t have to have everything figured out to connect to others and have influence.

  • Every time I read your words, Heather, I think, how did she get inside my head?! Yes, music and beauty hold healing powers. And I love Godspell.

    • it’s a GREAT musical. glad we’re sharing some brain matter 🙂