1997 wasn’t a good year for me. I had too-short hair, glasses. I was all hormones, and looking back now, I realize a good dose of depression and anxiety. I couldn’t fit inside my skin. I think most 12 year old’s understand that feeling. That feeling of being out of place, uncomfortable, awkward. 1997 isn’t a year I look back on fondly.
But one good thing happened in 1997. In 1997 I went to a choir. A little group rehearsing in an old church in White Rock. And there I met Sarona.
I think we all have those people if we are lucky. Those few people who come into our lives and leave a mark. Leave us better than they found us.
Sarona was one of those people for me.
Sarona took us from being kids. From being geeks, or loners, or losers, or invisible. She took us and she made us into singers.
She taught us to work hard. To do what we said we were going to do. She taught us to stand up in a room full of people and sing our hearts out.
From Sarona I learned a work ethic.
From Sarona I learned how to fit into my skin better – she always seemed to fit so well into hers.
Several months ago I got an email that Sarona, my choir director, was moving away and would no longer be directing the choir that I spent so much time in from about 1997-2003. This woman who had taught me so so much was having a final concert and they were looking for alumni to sing. I joined immediately.
And I found myself in a room with women I hadn’t seen since we were girls, teenagers. Women who had been there at a critical moment in my life. I found myself in a room with the women I had grown up with. Women who were some of the first I told when I kissed a boy. When I… more than kissed a boy.
And so we sang. We sang for Sarona because we love her. Each and every one of us talked about how this woman, this one woman, had taken us and given us a place to belong at an age when so few have that and so many need it. She had given us a safe place. Those words, “safe place”, came up again and again as we talked about her.
I sat in a coffee shop with two of these women on the afternoon of the concert. Between us we had 3 marriages, 2 divorces, 6 children. Our lives had taken us in directions that we could not have predicted. And the mark that Sarona left hadn’t faded for any of us. We all recognized the critical impact she had had on our lives.
So I sang. I got up on a stage and I sang. And we sang the old songs, songs I hadn’t sung in over a decade. The songs came back as if there’d been no time.
It was like I was seventeen again. Standing in my blue velvet dress, matching scrunchy in my hair, a single strand of pearls around my neck. It was like I was on an adventure. Like we’d just rushed out of some tour bus onto stage. I thought about all of those moments and all of those children. Young women, young men who had been given a safe place. Who’d gotten to sing.
Singing, music, is a powerful thing. It bridges our differences. It connects us. It’s a beauty that is desperately needed in the world right now.
So I sang.
When the women’s choir said they were accepting new members I knew that that was the place for me. I’ve been rehearsing with this group for a few months now. Sarona’s mark is there even though she is gone. It’s in some of the old songs people pick up. It’s in the warm ups and the movement. I’ve sung with other choirs in the past decade but none that have felt so much like home.
I look back and I see that 12 year old girl with the too-short hair and glasses. The girl who couldn’t fit inside her skin. A girl whose hormones were spilling over. A girl who was anxious, about everything and nothing. A girl who felt so so alone, all day, everyday, at school.
I look back on that girl and I wonder who she would have become if she hadn’t found her spot. If she hadn’t found her safe space to be, to exist. To be seen and to be loved for who she was. To be told that it was okay to be a little bit different.
That 12 year old girl has been trained away. She has found a space and a voice and a way to fit in her skin.
But she’s always going to be under there. And she’s always going to be grateful for Sarona. Grateful that she came in and changed her life.