It is late on a Thursday night and I become aware of the outside light and how dusk subtly unveils herself over this little town of Pinole. The air behind these cafe windows is cool and crisp, and I sit here inside cozied up in the back corner with my latte and journal, where I've been for hours, writing. My hair smells of espresso and I notice how the closer the clock ticks to 7 pm, the more I am racing heart and twisting gut and short inhales. I have come here to write, yes, but really, I've come here to read. To read my own work during open mic.
I watch nervously as a man in a checkered flannel shirt stands up on the stage and strums his guitar. All I notice is his greasy hair and long beard and think to myself that he's the kind of person I wouldn't want to sit next to on BART. My mind wanders because I'm concerned that my piece isn't appropriate for this audience, and how I've never been to an open mic here. I wonder if it's too late to dig through the weaved straw basket at the front of the stage and crumple up the piece of paper with my name written on it and hide it away in my pocket.
It is always easier and safer and more comfortable to hide.
My thoughts are interrupted by an awkward silence. Then a strum. The guitarist has forgotten his lyrics. He fumbles around. We wait in anticipation. He finds his rhythm again and we all relax in our seats. Suddenly, I ignore the beard and the strange genre of music and I just see him- in all of his imperfection- and recognize his humanity, rawness and vulnerability on that stage. I recognize beauty. I hear myself clapping louder than the others around me because I am applauding his ability- more than anything- to show up and share his truth with this world.
Then, it is my turn and I feel the eyes on me as I walk towards the stage, adjust the microphone and sit on the wooden stool. I look out into the audience and am greeted with the eager eyes of young and old, men and women. I take a deep breath and my heart feels a strange calmness as I speak- these words that were conceived in the depths on my journal pages, words so near and dear to my heart that for the first time are being birthed out into the world, gasping for life-giving breath as they are caught and received and cradled by this captive audience.
I ignore my shaking legs and sweaty palms and smile in an effort to steady my voice. I continue to read, "Perhaps things aren't falling apart, maybe they are falling together," and I hear a voice from the darkness rumble, "HELL YES!" and suddenly it is no longer 'me' up here and 'them' out there- we are all connected. This umbilical cord of words allowing them to hear my truth, my heartbreak, my hope and I just pray from underneath the warm spotlights that somehow these words will offer a light to direct someone back home.
I breathe a sigh of relief when it's over, and I don't really hear the applause, I am marinading in my own feelings of sheer joy, for choosing courage over fear. A woman grabs my hand as I make my way back to my seat and says, "Thank you for sharing your words," and that alone makes it all worth it, stepping into that arena, daring greatly.
The guitarist comes up to me at the end of the night as he is walking away, we exchange affirming words and he tells me, "I really, really enjoyed your poem." And I nod graciously and think about how all of life is poetry- some of the lines ebb and flow and some don't rhyme at all, but somehow it all still works. I feel light and fluttery and alive. Suddenly, the room feels more expansive and I am aware of how spacious the world feels when you can freely express who you are, no longer bound or imprisoned by what other people will think.
We all have a unique voice and talents and words and stories to share with the world. Fear paralyzes most of us, but regardless of that, we must step into the arena, to dare greatly instead of looking in from the outside, wondering what would have happened if we actually showed up for our own lives. You'll find that once you enter into the arena, even though failure may still exist, you will experience a deeper contentment and freedom and respect for yourself.
The beauty of this Truth is that you don't have to write your name on a piece of paper and drop it into a basket, waiting for it to be called.
And you're not limited to only five minutes. Your entire lifetime can be your open mic.
We're all in this together. And if you forget, just look up. I'll be the one clapping the loudest from the back.