When I was young, I loved to sing. As a child I sang all the time whether it be an appropriate setting or not. Out at to dinner at restaurants, I would stand up on the tables and sing or put on shows beneath them. My voice was my gift and one that I was willing to share generously. That all changed as I got older.
When I was older, I stopped singing, especially in public. It had been years since the last time I sang in front of an audience as I walked through the valley in Viñales, Cuba. My pace was leisurely and in my mind I was envisioning a big tree under which I wanted to spend the day. I walked in silence, observant to the sounds, smells and views in the magnificent valley. The geography around me looked prehistoric. It was marvelous, incredible and completely indescribable. As I walked, I passed a narrow path lined with bamboo trees and stopped. Unlike me, the trees were singing. Unashamed and without reserve their voices vibrated with the whistling wind emitting a beautiful sound that harmonized with the rustling of leaves. I listened for a while and then continued my journey.
The peak of my singing career occurred at the age of 12 when I recorded a song called “I Will Go With My Father” with my dad on his album Crossing Over (you can listen to it here). The experience in the recording studio was invigorating and exciting. My pre-teen self would describe it as SO COOL. Of course, at that age things quickly go from being so cool to uncool especially when other people get involved. For me, these other people were my step siblings and little did I know that the song I had so joyfully recorded with my father at the age of 12 would haunt me for the next decade.
After an hour of wandering through the valley, I found the exact spot I was looking for. There was a large tree that provided much needed shade from the hot Cuban sun, a smooth blanket of earth to sit on overlooking a little river and a bouquet of mountains. It was perfect. I dropped to the ground and just sat. The book, journal and iPod in my bag were left untouched. All I wanted was silence. The mountains and the stream captivated my attention for an unknown amount of time. People on foot and horseback crossed the river in front of me and continued on their journey without a second glance at the little American tourist sitting alone under a tree. I was invisible. Except I wasn’t.
As the years went by, I Will Go With My Father became a weapon used against me – an instant trigger of embarrassment and shame. When guests or friends came over there was always the threat that Maddie, Jack or Caroline would put it on the stereo and that I would be forced to listen to it and endure taunting and laughter. There was one time in particular that I remember. At our family cabin in Minnesota, we had friends passing through, out of nowhere, I heard the first part of the song lyrics echo through the speakers and darted across the room to turn it off. I was stopped. A step sibling, I can’t remember which one, held me down on the couch, their large physical size disabling my ability to stop the music. I started writhing and kicking, trying to free myself, and screaming in an attempt to drown out the sweet voice of a child so excited to sing. The volume got louder. My shouts weren’t enough. Pinned down on the couch I was powerless to avoid the voice of a little girl that I had come to hate. While this time we were alone in the cabin, even if my mom and stepfather had been present the behavior would have been tolerated as it was many times before. Bullying, tormenting and using vulnerabilities as weapons was common behavior in the household we lived in. In retrospect, it wasn’t okay, but at the time, with no adult stepping in to stop it, it was. This wasn’t the first time I was restrained as the song was played and it definitely wasn’t the last. Eventually, I would throw a tantrum every time I heard it or it was brought up even by someone I cared about. The bullying, the song, my voice scared me. That night, in that moment, the song, and the tormenting, went on.
Out of nowhere, in the silent and peaceful valley, I suddenly felt like singing. This urge came out of nowhere and was a desire that had become completely foreign in recent years. The song that came to my lips is not one with words or one you would recognize. In fact, it’s not even a song at all. It was a melody pulled straight from the mountains and released into the incredible valley around me. Suddenly, I was singing. People still passed, and though my voice dropped, I didn’t go silent. They still didn’t see me. Noises started to rustle around me, however, and suddenly I was no longer alone under the tree.
First, there were three piglets. They came sniffing around the tree and simultaneously collapsed for their afternoon nap behind me. Then there were three lambs who bravely left their grazing mothers nearby to see what was happening. Then, chicks came, pecking around the sleeping baby animals as I continued to sing. The little girl inside of me, who loved to sing, felt it was finally safe to come out of hiding after ten years of silencing her voice.
A couple of my new friends
I will go with my father a-ploughing
To the green field by the sea,
These are the first two lines of a song that has tormented me for over a decade. And yet, here I was, in Cuba, in a green field by the sea, after over ten years of running away from the song, living out its lyrics. It was astonishing the synchronicity between lyrics that haunted me and the incredible day I had that brought me indescribable joy.
My father paved the way for me to do what I’m doing. He ploughed the toxic fields of destructive family systems, unhealthy patterns and emotional minefields for years so that they were safe for me to explore. I am able to develop into the adult that I am because he (and my incredible stepmother/mother Maureen) created a space where it was acceptable to do so. When I was a child, however, the fields weren’t safe. As I grow up and become my own person, however, I am ready to take on my own share of ploughing through destructive patterns that have been stifling for so many years.
And the rooks and the crows and the seagull
Will come flocking after me.
While there were no rooks, crows or seagulls there were piglets, kids (goats, not children), lambs, chicks and foals. And all of the animals (baby animals, I might add), like in the song, came flocking after me.
The audience for my impromptu concert – my first in over ten years
I will sing to the patient horses
With the lark in the while of the air,
I sang to horses, patient ones, as farmers washed them in the river in front of me. Old horses and young foals took their time in the river reveling in the relief of cool water after hours in the hot sun. The farmers may have heard me, the horses definitely did, but, for the first time, unafraid of judgment, I kept singing.
And my father will sing the plough-song
That blesses the cleaving share.
My father has been singing for years, he rediscovered his voice at the age of 40, right when I was losing mine. Singing in the mountains was a powerful and healing experience. It wasn’t the 23-year-old Lucy who sang in Viñales that day. It was the 3-year-old girl who loved to belt out ballads at the top of her lungs in restaurants and the 12 year old girl who was so excited to have her voice recorded. Surrounded by baby animals, just as innocent as I was, the younger version of me finally had a safe place to sing.
Away from the valley and away from Cuba, I listened to the song for the first time in years. This time, instead of screaming or fighting or crying, all I wanted to do was sing along.
***One of my deepest secrets up until this point is that the song is on iTunes. You can listen to it and download it here