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Late during the winter before this past one, I spent the afternoon with my grandmother after learning that she would need to have hospice care soon. Her 92 year old body was irreversibly shutting down, and I knew she would not remain lucid for long. I was so very grateful to be able to be with her and we sat in the sunshine near a big window and talked for the entire afternoon. She told stories, my favorite stories, about the important people of her past -- my grandfather, her best friend, her mother. In between stories, she asked me for reassurance that everyone in the family would be okay after she was gone, that I would be fine. I reassured her we would. In response to her worries about how hard I work, I told her how happy I am as a mom, that I am beginning to make music again, that my daughter and I have a bright future. She held my hand and smiled again and again as we spoke, and I looked at her as hard as I could, trying to carve every line of her lovely face, her lovely smile into my memory forever.

When evening approached, she was too tired to talk any longer and I had to get home. Trying to ease my grandmother's mind as we parted, I told her what my daughter and I would do that evening -- what I would make for dinner, the walk we would take, the homework and practicing that would take place in our little home. I told my grandmother that I would see her the next day and then, trying to cheer her up more, I blurted out that tomorrow night, I might even sing at a nearby open mic and, if I did, I would sing her song, a song I wrote about her and my grandfather not long ago.

My grandmother beamed at me. Please, sing my song -- she said.

The next day was complete chaos though. My mind was chaotic thinking about my grandmother who had seemed well only a week ago. My daughter became sick during the school day and I spent my lunch hour in the pediatrician’s office with her. The afternoon was a blur of juggling my day job and taking care of my daughter, and in the evening as I was making dinner I realized that I would be late to the open mic even if I didn’t take the time to warm up my voice before going or, worse yet, my hands. I didn’t have an accompanist and this would be one of the first times I would accompany myself on guitar before an audience.Truthfully, I wasn’t ready to perform and I knew it. What had I been thinking telling my grandmother I would sing her song???

I thought of her strength and her smile though, of her faith in me and her constant love and, buoyed by this, held up by the strength, grace, and grit that love can help us find, I raced out the door, my guitar in hand.

By the time I arrived to the open mic, all but one slot for performing had been taken. This slot was the first one of the night and to take it, I’d have to play immediately. I had no time to get a feeling for the audience, the space, the sound there...I was worried but I tuned up and approached the microphone, reassuring myself that I’d be fine, that all the performance experience from my past would come back to me as soon as I began to sing.

But it didn’t. In the past, I had time to prepare before gigs, I had accompanists, I had sleep. In the past, I was a decade younger and I wasn’t juggling motherhood, a day job, tasks at home, and dreams. In the past, I had the luxury of practicing for hours each day, rehearsing for just as long and, as such, I had the luxury of not making mistakes during a performance.

So I was completely taken aback when I made one mistake after another. Noticeable mistakes. My hands shook. I dropped notes from the accompaniment. Even my voice, which I could always count on, seemed to waver and betray me. Horrified and not sure if I should just walk away and accept that I could not make music amidst all else I had to do, at least not that day, I stopped playing. For one horrible moment I was truly at a loss and then I heard my voice, not singing but talking, telling the story of my day and explaining that sadly my playing was as hectic as my day had been. I could see people in the audience smiling then and I could feel them encouraging me. Like my grandmother, they were giving me strength. So I began again, not playing or singing as well as I could have, but I got through the three songs. I was very disappointed in how the performance had turned out. I figured I probably wasn’t able to really perform yet. I knew it was important that I’d tried but I also felt I’d failed..

What I didn’t know then, however, is that a musician who heard me that night would follow up with me to form a band. He had really liked my songs and my voice and knew that with the support of a band, I could accomplish so much more. He was right and the band we started has become the foundation for the one I work with today. Being a part of it has led me to co-writing songs, recording, music ideas, plans and performances far removed from the experience at that open mic. My terrible time there was the beginning of setting the foundation for the music I am making now. It was the seed from which a lot of the music I am making today has grown.

I told this story to classmates at my 20th college reunion this past weekend. We had been talking about how certain we had been about our post-graduation plans, that we (thought we) had known exactly what paths we would take, but that the detours we willingly or unwillingly took from these paths, were often the richest, most formative, and often most important parts of journeys. We spoke about the fact that often we did not feel ready for these detours, but they happened anyway. We spoke about the tendency for so many of us to wait until we are ‘ready’ to do something, until we know it will be ‘good, enough’, until we are certain that there is no risk of failure, but that so many of our best times or biggest achievements happened because we acted before we were ready, certain, or safe.

I am so glad I didn’t wait until I was ready to go to that open mic.

My grandmother spent almost two weeks in hospice with family at her bedside the entire time. Mostly she slept and rested but when she woke, she smiled and said ‘You’re here!’ every time she saw me. Some nights, after everyone was asleep, in fact when it seemed that the whole world was asleep and that only she and I were in it, I sang lullabies to her. I told her I sang her song and that I would keep singing it. I thanked her again and again for everything she had done for me. I thanked her for the strength she gave me, for her example of a life well lived and well loved.

Many songs later, I now know that when you sing to an audience, they can give you strength too, that when you conquer your fears and go out into the community to share your dream, even if you don’t succeed, everyone wins. Spending time with the amazing women I went to school with, who, twenty years later are so much further on their career paths than I am, reminded me of this lesson again. Truthfully, I didn’t feel ‘ready’ to attend my 20th reunion. I didn’t feel accomplished enough. I felt that my time since graduation had surely been too different from those of my classmates, who are professional dancers, writers, leaders of NGOs and humanitarian efforts, professors, directors of companies and classrooms. However, this wasn’t the case and, instead, I was strengthened by the time I spent with these successful, strong and very smart women. I was reminded by our stories and our joy to continue to not wait until I am ‘ready’ to try for whatever good lies ahead of me. I was reminded that, always, we are buoyed by our collective strength and love.

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