Singing Out in Mother’s Market

By Steven D. Farmer, Ph.D.
Being a former shy person I can empathize with anyone who has inhibitions about expressing themselves in public—especially singing. When asked, many people would admit to singing in the shower, but few would claim the courage to sing in front of anyone else. Most people would say they’re afraid of other people’s judgments if they were to do such a thing, even if they did it well. Yet it’s more the case of our own judgment of ourselves that interferes with the kind of freedom of expression required to take such risks.

After a lifetime of confronting these fears and walking through them, I cannot legitimately claim to be shy, even though I recognize the child inside is still deathly afraid of looking stupid in front of a group. Come to think of it, there have been a few instances where I did look pretty foolish, some while giving a speech or teaching, and others while performing musically. But it’s all about learning to love the “fool” inside, isn’t it? That part of each one of us that, in spite of our best efforts, will stutter over words or sing off key. Perhaps the saying should be, “learn to love the fool inside—even in public.”

About a week ago my wife, Doreen, and I were sitting having a nice brunch at one of our favorite health food stores, Mother’s Market, when we heard what first sounded like a radio that had been turned up somewhere in the store. It soon dawned on us that the singing was actually coming from an elderly lady, all of about 5 feet tall, in the middle of the produce section. She was visible just a few feet from where we were sitting, and although we couldn’t quite make out the words to the song she was singing, her voice was sweet and melodic. She was belting out a tune a capella, and you could tell that she was having a great time.

Looking around, I saw that several people had stopped what they were doing to listen, some laughing and shaking their heads at the brashness of this woman. Most everyone around us was smiling, obviously affected by this burst of spontaneous and creative expression.

My curiosity compelled me to check this out a little closer and I also wondered if she took requests, so I walked over to where she was standing between the oranges and the mangoes. I noted her sweatshirt which said, “I (heart) Jesus; Jesus (heart) me.” I could see that her rejoicing was as much about expressing her love and passion through this outrageous yet harmless performance than about her faith alone. I approached her while she was still singing and I asked her to sing one of my favorite songs. She held a finger up as if to say, “just one minute while I finish this song.” I signaled okay, then whispered to her as she continued, “Can you please sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone next?’” She nodded without interrupting the song in Spanish she was singing, and I returned to the restaurant.

When she finished her performance we applauded along with several others. Then she started in with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Tears came to my eyes when I heard the first lines of the song: “When you walk through a storm hold your head up high . . .” It triggered a memory of when I was just eight years old my (now deceased) older brother had sung it in a performance of the musical “Carousel” for the high school play, and I fell in love with the song then. Since that day it’s always had special meaning for me and always brings joy to my heart.

As she sang passionately and with great gusto, she slowly walked from where she’d been standing in the produce section over to the restaurant where we were seated, smiling and looking directly at me the whole time. She arrived at the entrance just as she was singing the last few lines:

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone!

Teary-eyed and with a lump in my throat, I thanked her, and we each did a “Namasté” bow towards one another. Once again many of us applauded as she waved good-bye and walked out the door. Never did get her name, and most likely we won’t see her again, but she gave us a beautiful gift and a memory that we could cherish for a long, long time.

Amazing how this woman’s willingness to take a risk by expressing her joy and love in the midst of a busy health food store affected so many of us so positively. It lifted our spirits and shifted the atmosphere in the store to where everyone seemed at least a little bit happier.

Anyone for singing?

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