Monday morning I sat in a dimly lit gymnasium, smelling that familiar, musky odor distinct to all school gymnasiums, and I found myself unable to stop crying. Not because of the smell, which was particularly unpleasant, but because I was watching an elementary school Talent Show and it gave me a lot of feelings.
Like, a LOT of feelings.
More feelings than I was prepared for.
I knew I’d get emotional when I watched my daughter perform. I knew I’d feel that strange mix of pride and terror as I watched my tiny tender march out onto the stage and do something big and brave in a room full of strangers and peers. I knew that.
I was ready for that part.
I wasn’t ready for the tears that started rolling down my face 30 seconds into the first act, and didn’t stop until the curtain dropped. I don’t know why, but the minute that first little girl scooted her bench up to the piano and started playing, something inside of me came undone.
I think part of it was residual sorrow over all the Terrible-Awful that happened in Orlando this week, lurking just below the surface, waiting to be acknowledged. I hadn’t really let myself sit with those feelings yet. I mean, I hadn’t just looked the other way, but I also hadn’t allowed myself to fully feel the fear, sadness, and loss. Not again. I kept it at bay, for fear that it would carry me away on a tide of grief.
Maybe it’s selfish, to keep those feelings at bay, when that’s not exactly an option for 50 families suffering through the unbearable weight of loss right now. Or maybe it’s just my survival technique. Either way, the feelings of despair were there, waiting to be consciously measured.
As I watched those tiny little kids climb up onstage one by one, doing such brave, beautiful things, all my feelings of sadness suddenly mixed with feelings of happiness and it was too much. A dam broke somewhere within, spilling tears everywhere.
I tried valiantly to pull myself together, to stop crying like a ninny (and also to ignore the judgey stares coming from the first-grader sitting next to me on the bleachers). That’s right, I said first-grader. It wasn’t even some cool, self-assured fifth grader staring me down. It was a six-year-old girl in polka-dot shorts shooting me a highly suspicious side-eye every time I dabbed my eyes. She even raised an eyebrow when I scoured my purse for a fresh tissue to blow my nose. She never said a word to me but her eyes were definitely giving off a, “Seriously, lady? What’s your deal?”, kind of vibe.
Well kid, you might not understand this yet, but my DEAL is that my heart is expanding and contracting at the same time, and as usual, I’m not quite sure how to handle it.
Don’t worry, I didn’t say that. I didn’t even look directly at her, because to be honest I was a little embarrassed by my sudden show of emotion.
Maybe you would have cried too, if you were there.
One boy sang his awkward little heart out while his feet tapped the floor to a different beat altogether. Two little girls played piano together in tandem. One little boy did a magic show that he took quite seriously. His face remained stoic when whispers of shock and awe rippled through the crowd. “What? How did he do that? It was just there!” But he was already on to the next trick. He didn’t stop to enjoy his moment of glory until the very end of his act, when he did a dramatic bow with the cape he was wearing. It was the best. That bow was everything.
One little girl stood on the steps in front of the stage with the spotlight right on her face and she sang a cappella. The room hushed as we waited for her soft, sure voice to cut the silence. She sang about wishing she could be like the cool kids and she slayed me with every note. Not only because she sang with skill, but also with a surprising maturity. A knowing.
One boy in my daughter’s third-grade class did stand-up comedy. He couldn’t have been more than 9 years old but he was totally in his element, telling joke after joke like it was his day job.
There were tiny ballerinas. There were hip-hop dancers. There was even a Star Wars themed cello quartet (if you count the fourth kid who marched ominously around the stage with a light saber and a bag of Doritos, pretending to be Darth Vader). I’m still rather unclear as to the meaning behind the bag of Doritos, but hey, art is art. It’s all up for interpretation, right?
My daughter and her friends performed their dance with nervous smiles and bouncy ponytails and it was all so adorable I almost fell down dead on the spot. I laughed and applauded and then I cried some more.
You guys, I seriously think these kids have it figured out. To sit there and watch them each awkwardly, joyfully doing their own unique thing and sharing it with the world; it got to me.
They were putting themselves out there. They were clapping and cheering for each other. They were supporting each other.
Maybe that’s just part of the magic and innocence of childhood. Maybe that doesn’t really last when children turn into teenagers and then adults.
Or maybe it does.
Maybe it can?
I’m not really sure after this week. After hearing one more news story of senseless murders. All I know is that it in a world that seems to increasingly turn towards hate, fear, and violence, I was inspired to turn instead towards the person next to me.
To hold them in a safe space with open arms.
I might have actually done it right then too, if that darn first grader hadn’t been intimidating me the whole time with her suspicious stares. I mean, I get it. I probably looked a little strange, getting worked up to the point of tears while three girls danced onstage to a song about squirrels with pillowcases on their heads. Anyway, that’s not the point.
My point is, all it took was two hours in a stinky gym to be reminded by a group of children that life is beautiful and that one of the best things we can do as humans is to laugh and cry and be our beautiful selves.
Photo Credit: Adam Taylor via Getty images