“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face…”
It was 1999. I was sixteen years old, and one of the youngest sopranos chosen to be a part of NYSSSA. My fellow singers were mostly high school juniors or seniors on their way to college and this was their pre-conservatory bootcamp. I was self-conscious, afraid that my voice wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t pretty enough, that nobody would like me. But there I was, sitting among the best teenage singers in New York State, and I was singing with them. I wondered when they would notice that I wasn’t good enough. That was all I could focus on. It was the first rehearsal and I’d resigned myself to a summer of alienation, a summer of loneliness. I blended my voice in to the crowd, hoping no one would notice I was there. We sang “The Benediction” one time from start to finish and we were told that it was a camp tradition. Every year before and every year after, at the final recital, this song acts as a punctuation mark for the summer. Period. End. At the end of rehearsal, I packed up my folder full of sheet music and headed toward my room on the other end of SUNY Fredonia.
“You have a really beautiful voice,” he said. It startled me. I looked around, waiting to locate the person he was speaking to, but there was no one to be found. “Me?” I asked. He laughed and said, “Yes, you. You must hear that all the time,” which was true. I did hear that compliment often, but all I ever chose to focus on was my weight, my frizzy hair, or that one time I was a soloist and I mispronounced something in French in the middle of an aria, but there he was with his big blue eyes, telling me that I was more than adequate; that I was good enough. That compliment changed me. I became more social and comfortable in my skin. I raised my hand in music theory and I hung out at the cool kid’s table. I was third on the list of the hottest girls at sleep away camp. For the first time, I felt like I belonged. I was an awkward teen, but here I was in a new place with new people who didn’t know anything about me except what I showed them. So I showed them the best version of me I could muster. I have friends that I keep in touch with to this day (hi Jon, hi Juan!) from camp.
The last days of camp were torturous for me. I dreaded going home and seeing the same people I never cared for much to begin with. I discovered another end of summer tradition-a sleepover on the hill, something frowned upon by the staff (hello, teenage boys and girls together…with blankets!), but overlooked. It started getting cold by August-Fredonia is waaaaaay up north. I bought a long-sleeved t-shirt for the night and when the last night came, I headed to the hill to spend it with my new friends-slash-family. We laughed too loud, talked too much, and got very little sleep-a recipe for a vocal disaster, but it didn’t matter. When it was time to sing “The Benediction”, exhaustion didn’t matter. You can hear all of us-all sixty or so of us-begin to cry with the sound of the first cord. I have the recording on a CD somewhere and it still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it.
Tonight is my last night in Boston, the home I’ve known on and off for eleven years. I have that last-night-of-camp feeling, like I’m leaving a place I belonged because of a very, very, very small group of people who made Boston more than a place on a map-they made it a place in my heart. I am incredibly excited to move to California and slightly terrified. I’m told that what I’m feeling is “normal”, but I’m not sure crying while saying goodbye to my favourite Whole Foods employee is exactly normal. In my heart of hearts, I know this is the right decision for me no matter how long I spent balled up on the couch sobbing the past few days. Tonight, as I fall asleep in my apartment for the last time with my best friend a few feet away, I have a sense of peace in knowing that this isn’t “goodbye” it’s just “see you later!”
Boston, thank you for everything-for reminding me that I am resilient, and brave, and courageous, and worthy of being loved-so loved that another job and state chose me. I’m honored and humbled and thrilled beyond belief. I will miss it here, but it is my time to go.
…and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”