Friday, 3 July 2015

The singing pilgrim

I haven’t written for a long time. Apart from shopping lists and notes to my kids. “Gone to walk the dog, back later.” Writing was the song I sang back to the world, the notes of my life finding some kind of harmony as I put them on the page. Writing helped me make sense of my world, as if the words I chose became way markers that I was discovering, following, painting for myself.

Then something happened. Someone took my song sheet, balled it up in their fist and shoved it down my throat. And the words just stopped, there was no space around the sides of the dribbled-on paper for them to get squeezed out. The letters got sort of mushy and they bled into one another until they were slipping all over the page and I couldn’t decipher them any more.

When I was kid we went to church almost every Sunday. My parents had been raised Catholic and then right after I was born they ‘got saved’ into a more happy clappy version of church, but still they brought their check list with them. Going to church once if not twice every Sunday was on the list awaiting its weekly ticks. I didn’t mind so much, everyone had to be nice at church which they weren’t always at home. And anyway the best thing about going was the singing. There were no guitars back then, they were slightly frowned on as though guitar music might somehow be intrinsically unChristian, but the piano accompanied the rich voices flowing together as they skipped their way through the Redemption Hymnal. 

Worship was an ‘as the Spirit leads’ sort of affair. Mostly, one of the more well-established church members would call out a hymn number for us all to sing - I remember my Dad doing it a few times and if I was standing next to him I would blush to the roots of my hair - but other times someone would simply begin singing a capella until everyone else joined in.

How I wanted to be that person, while simultaneously feeling like I couldn’t think of anything worse! To be able to flow in the space of a heartbeat from speaking words to singing them, with a roomful of people listening, seemed to me sort of like dancing in public but with very few clothes on. Yet there was something entrancing about it, the way everyone else would join in, following the Pied Piper along the staves and crotchets. You sure had to hope you didn’t start a song no one else knew.

Other than the tendency to blush if someone merely glanced my way, there was a deeper reason why a girl like me would not sing the notes of the Piper for the rest of the congregants. I had made the mistake one day of asking a friend, mind you a friend with a beautiful voice, if she thought I could sing nicely. And since that time, when she’d pointed out that there were times when I was off-key, I couldn’t get the words to come out of my throat. I had been silently mouthing the interminable stanza-chorus repeats every Sunday for months, convinced that so long as my lips were moving nobody would notice.

For a couple of years, my not-writing has been disguised behind the lip-syncing of Facebook status updates and photo captions on Instagram. A good quote here and there, a pithy comment or two and who would know the difference, right? But I keep feeling as though the words are backing up in my throat, there’s a heaviness in my chest where nouns, adjectives and verbs are piling up behind the dam wall. Something needs to give, to let them out.

It may be messy. There be the odd note that’s off-key; I may sing flat for a while, but sing I must. And nobody needs to join me, I’m not expecting to traipse along with my pipe ahead of a snaking column of singing pilgrims. I think singing in the shower would be more my thing, soap in hand as my personal microphone, letting out all those dammed up words to mingle with the cleansing rivulets of truth as they tumble over me.


  1. Nice to see you back. Whether it's harmonious, off-key or flat - I I look forward to the renewed singing.