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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


The Dance
----- On occasion I have been asked to provide music for a small mid-week service at my church. This is not an invitation I look forward to as it challenges my comfort zone in an extreme manner. I am very comfortable performing with my trumpet in hand as this is “what I do,” but the service in question doesn’t lend itself to such a performance. I feel compelled to dust off the guitar and pound out an easy and familiar tune from the hymnal. I haven’t entirely figured out why the endeavor is so painful for me, but I have become certain that is has something to do with the fear of how others will perceive me. On the occasion of my most recent invitation, that very idea was challenged in a new way as I felt a strong compulsion to perform one of my own songs. Each time I thought about the impending performance I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind. I’d pick up my guitar and the hymnal but would inevitably end the session by playing and singing my song. Afterward I’d remind myself of all the reasons I couldn’t sing my song at the service. It would seem self-serving and egotistical. The song was far too long for such an occasion. The subject matter was entirely inappropriate. I’d put away my guitar, more frustrated than ever that I still didn’t have a song to perform.
----- A few days before the service I found myself in a bookstore with some time on my hands. Not even thinking about the upcoming performance I made my way to the performing arts section. A book on the shelf caught my eye and I picked it up. It was a small book by Leanne Womack entitled “I Hope You Dance.” It was a companion to her hit song by the same title. As I thumbed through it, I was inspired by the message. As I stood in the aisle reading it, it suddenly occurred to me that I had to perform my song. I had no choice. The subject matter of my song - that I had rationalized as being inappropriate - was all about the dangers of following someone else’s dream of who you are or what you should do. Now Leanne Womack was reminding me that I was refusing to hear the irony in my excuse making. I had to get up and dance. My own song said so.
----- I arrived in the small chapel before the service and began rehearsing the piece when I saw the choir director coming toward the door. Upon seeing him approaching, insecurity stopped me in my tracks. He told me not to stop, but of course I already had. I recall telling him, rather apologetically, that I would be performing one of my own songs. Even though he offered words of encouragement and said it shouldn’t concern me, I didn’t buy it. I was relieved that he was going to be unable to stay for the service. Of course, this reminded me that I still had a long way to go in feeling comfortable with my “dance.”
----- My nervousness grew as people started coming into the chapel. I knew the service was always very small and that I would likely know everyone there. Somehow this didn’t help, nor did it help that each and every person seemed to ask me what I was going to perform. How many times would I have to apologize in advance?
----- The service started and I knew the point of no return had arrived. The butterfly clock had begun to tick. I was to follow immediately after the sermon. There were a few hymns to be sung before that and I thought maybe this would help break the ice. On one of them, I even got the nerve to pick up my guitar and very lightly strum along.
The pastor performing the service was a close friend and I knew that this fact alone would help to relax me. Her messages always found their way right to my heart and I knew I’d be touched and inspired. But, I feared that even this security blanket would be challenged when she started out by saying that she was going to do something a little different this time. She mentioned a pastor friend of hers who often used current-day material for sermons, calling them “contemporary scriptures.” She said that she had found a contemporary scripture that called loudly to her and that she wanted to share it this night. I almost fell out of the pew when she held up the book - “I Hope You Dance.” She played the song for us on a portable CD player and then read us the book, showing us the pictures, the way a pre-school teacher reads to her class. At that moment, the butterfly clock began ticking to the beat of her song, to the tune of her message. I felt as though I had somehow been delivered into this moment.
----- After the sermon I stood up and told the congregation where I had been and what I had been doing when I decided I needed to perform this selection. As I began to play, I felt the butterflies calmly and gently lift my voice in song.