Beauty Has Saved Me Over and Over


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.