Monday, August 8, 2011

Dare, double dare !

As the chocolate-colored surface of the shallow puddle zoomed up at me, my last thought was... well, I don't know if I had a thought, actually.  Maybe, "oops!"

And then everything went brown.  And cold.  And wet.  Shrieking laughter hit my ears once I surfaced again, on my knees, in my now mud-soaked, home-made blue-gingham dress with the peter pan collar and the puffed sleeves. Or maybe it was the red-flowered one, or the brown one; my mom believed in making good use of simple sewing patterns for her already oversized, and growing 6 year old.  Laura, Heidi, and Jennifer had all succeeded in jumping OVER the puddle on the school playground, just before the line-up bell rang.  Me, not so much.  I had to wait in the principal's office for my mom to bring me dry clothes.

Lesson one in dare-taking: calculate the downside, evaluate your chances, and keep some dry clothes handy.

Except for the puddle incident, I've lived a pretty cautious life...

Well, except for telling the 6th grade gym teacher that I had no intention of running 600 yards, even though he jogged around the field, yelling at me, as I walked the stupid presidential fitness test, while the rest of my class watched from the window of room 306...

Oh, and  that bit with climbing out my homeroom window and putting a cardboard elephant on the roof outside my 9th grade French class...

Yup. Cautious, circumspect, safe.

Unless you count stuffing my 10th grade, size-16 body into a shiny lycra leotard and singing "At the Ballet"  from A Chorus Line with Laura (the successful mud-puddle jumper from years back) on the high school stage in front of an audience.

And then there was asking Doug Smith to the Senior Prom.
In the library.
In front of several of his friends.  In front of a couple of my friends.
He said he had a wrestling match the next day and couldn't go.  Oh well.

And yet, I'm not one of those creatures whose life is limited to caring for three-dozen cats, painting my fingernails lavender and counting the days between therapy appointments and support group.  I've managed to succeed a few times and I've got myself a pretty wonderful life with a husband, a family, friends, music, and the occasional athletic endeavor. ( I've ditched the puffed-sleeve/peter pan collar look, and I stay away from jumping over puddles where anybody might see me, though.  And lycra is limited to garments that aren't usually seen in public. )

But in the last two years, I've been getting some reminders that life is short.  Too short.  And that puddle-jumping,  gym-coach-defying, elephant-on-the-roof-placing, leotard-wearing, prom-asking part of me has started to ask, "So, what's the real downside?  What's the worst that can happen if I fail?  Why the heck not try?"

So, I'm back to taking personal risks: not the "end up in the hospital or the morgue if you fail" kind of risks, but the kind that take me out of my safe zone and into joy.  I've always loved to sing, and I'm blessed to have a church family who invite me to sing often.  I have a dear, dear friend who's helped me to reclaim my middle-aged singing voice and my confidence.  That eventually led me to ASK (nervy, huh?)  a conductor friend of mine if he would give me the privilege of singing the soprano solo in the Brahms Requiem, with orchestra.  He gave me that honor, and it was a life-changing experience.  I'm not headed for the stage of the Met, but at least I didn't have to wipe mud off my puffed-sleeves afterward.  And it was pure joy for me.  Life is short.  Take joy where you can find it. (   is the link, in case you're curious how it turned out. )

I've also always loved to write.  I've been a letter-writer since I was 12, and an email letter-writer for many years.  In recent years, I've taken a few risks with writing devotionals for my church choir, and this blog.  I've even managed to find a little part-time job that allows me to edit and teach, and occasionally write, and get paid for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my first-ever article to a major magazine's annual essay contest.  The winner gets $3,000, a trip to New York, lunch with some of the editors of the magazine, and publication of the winning essay.  Over 7,000 people entered last year.  It feels right now like I'm mid-air over the puddle again, except that, if my essay is not the winner, I'm going to submit it to several other magazines, and then some more, until it gets published somewhere and I get paid for it.  No mud, no lycra, no snickering in the library for me.

Today, the voting webpage went up for a radio-station's "Star-Spangled Sing-Off", an audition for a chance to sing the National Anthem before an audience gathered to hear an opera at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  Among the contestants that include a number of gorgeous young things who can sing, a couple of choral groups, some singing puppets, a guy on stilts in an Uncle Sam costume, and a guy who made his audition video in the mens' room with the urinal flusher in the background, you will find me, about fourth row down, Valerie Hedrick.  Yup.  I'm "out there" too.  If you like, you can vote for me.  (How's that for nervy?  I can just hear that 6th grade gym coach saying "girls like you are headed for trouble")  Here's the link, in case you're so inclined. 

So, this summer, when the mirror tells me that I'm not getting any younger, and the life-threatening diagnoses of some dear friends tell me that life is both precious and short, I'm continuing to walk the line between safe and silly.
And in the process, I'm not scraping mud off my peter-pan collar.  I'm laughing, and looking for the next joy-risking challenge.  Care to join me?  I dare you!

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