As some of you may know, I am getting over an anxiety disorder that developed in the middle of vocal uncertainties I was going through about three years ago. Ever so aware of my flaws, I became incredibly hard on myself and started to experience something new and not so exciting… stage fright. Having been on stage since I was five, this was a completely new sensation, and a completely unwelcome one at that. So after two years on anti-depressants and beta-blockers, I decided a year ago to start trying to work with my body’s new reaction to being on stage… without chemical help. I was slowly fixing my vocal issues, but these little pills were not only making me feel completely numb on stage,but they messed up my breathing and I couldn’t continue using them.
So… fast-forward to about two months ago- I was a little annoyed with one of the pieces I was assigned to sing in our school’s junior opera scenes, and wasn’t sure if I could do it well. As usual, I was unnecessarily hard on myself and second-guessed my capabilities as a singer, which wasn’t fair to me, or my duet partner.
On the day we were assigned to stage the duet, I had a voice lesson down at Lincoln Center. As usual, I left my Twentieth Century Music History class, grabbed a coffee in the cafeteria, and walked to grab the 1 train at 116th and Broadway. When I swiped my card, I realized that I had insufficient funds on my metro card and had to replenish it. When I returned to swipe my way through the turnstile, I noticed a huge group of people crowded behind a older man waiting for him to go through… leaving the other turnstile free. Not sure what was going on, I moved closer to the crowd and realized that the man was having trouble getting through.
As it turned out, the man had a mental disability and though he had done everything right up until this point… purchased a metro card, walked up to the turnstile, placed his metro card properly to be swiped; he didn’t know, or couldn’t understand that all he needed to do was move his card forward about three inches, and continue walking. He just stood there completely helpless trying to speak the words “instructions please”.
Now, this isn’t a story about how I was such a good Samaritan and helped the man so I could pat myself on the back. In fact… I couldn’t help him. For some reason, I became so overcome with emotion that I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I swiped my card through the free turnstile, and continued on to the subway platform. When I reached my destination- a spot free from the crowd of annoyed New Yorkers waiting for a late train, I started crying. I couldn’t help it, and couldn’t understand why I was so emotional. Why didn’t I help him? What the hell was wrong with me!?
I realized that the man looked strikingly similar to one of my uncles; was incredibly well-dressed, groomed, and looked like he should be enjoying the luxuries of retirement with his wife and grandchildren. Furthermore, I began thinking back to when I was younger, and used to volunteer and job shadow in the special education classrooms at an elementary school in my hometown. I thought about a little girl named Kiersten, whose parents were late every day to pick her up, and how my friend Mandee used to babysit her while her parents and “healthy brother” could have family time. I then started thinking about my friend Samantha, whose brother Rudy has cerebral palsy, how loving their family is and the lessons I continually learn from all of them. I began to wonder if this man had a Samantha in his life… if he had someone that loved him like that.
When the train arrived, I found a seat by myself, and tried to concentrate on learning my music. We got about 300 feet when the train stalled. We were left alone with our thoughts for about fifteen minutes in the dark when I began to realize exactly how selfish I had been acting. Here I am, being given this wonderful opportunity at something really awesome, yet I’m wasting time and energy on being worried and nervous instead of just doing it. I had enjoyed being on stage so much growing up- was I really going to let a minor set-back hinder me? Let alone one that is really no longer an issue… I also began to realize that the man at the turnstile is probably content with his life. He obviously wasn’t homeless, and maybe he was on his way to a job that he really loves.
Somehow, it was this train ride that made really figure out how to “not sweat the small stuff” and as for the opera scenes concert? I had a blast…for the first time in over three years, I didn’t feel an ounce of anxiety, but rather excitement and adrenaline. It seemed as if my non-encounter with this man was the instantaneous cure I had been looking for for over three years, but what he really made me do was dig deep, and for the first time, in long time- love myself.