As a child, Lee Reeves decided to silence her singing voice after an awkward school experience with “Three Blind Mice.” But when her daughter was born, Reeves rediscovered her voice and the beauty of singing – no matter how badly – to a loved one.
I believe in singing badly.
When I was eight years old I stood in line with my peers waiting to audition for the school’s Christmas choir. Each of us was required to sing “Three Blind Mice” for Sister Anthony, who had the thankless job of triaging over fifty third-graders according to their apparent musical talents.
I remember how nervous I felt as I moved toward the front of the line, barely able to breathe when it was my turn. Sister Anthony blew a note from the small, circular, pitch pipe she carried in her pocket and nudged me to hurry up. I squeaked out the first two lines, “Three blind mice, three blind mice,” and she raised the palm of her hand to my face.
“That’s enough, Marylee,” she said, and pointed to the back of the room where I joined a cadre of losers who spent the remainder of the audition making trouble.
This was by no means the most traumatic event of my life, but it did silence me for many years, convincing me that I was not a natural singer, therefore not meant to sing.
That same year in religion class, I got an opposing message when a nun told us the story about a monk who crooned to God with the abandon of a small child, despite his terrible voice. The other monks whose voices soared with angelic perfection shunned him. They raised their eyebrows and glared, but he was oblivious to their disgust. He wasn’t singing for them but for God, who was immensely pleased. The human flaws of the monk’s voice could not be heard in heaven, only the pure pitch of his love and intention.
My courage to sing returned when my first child was born. She was sick much of the time with raging fevers and infections resulting from a rare blood disorder. For hours every afternoon when she was a baby, I held Leta while we danced to the tender cadence of Rod Stewart’s love song, “You’re In My Heart.” I’d sing to her in the softest voice I could muster, off-key and imperfectly. She’d gaze at me like I was a goddess. Often when it seemed she’d fallen asleep, I’d stop singing. Then she would open her eyes and gently tap her tiny hand on my breast. I’d pick up the song at a favorite line, and she would lay her head down again.
Leta grew into a beautiful young woman. But at age twenty, she developed leukemia. Now she’s gone, and I spend much of my time writing the story of her brief time on earth. I remind myself that my voice and writing—just as in singing—need not be perfect. As I pour it onto the page I must accept its limitations and flaws. Far more important is the love and intention I bring to the process.
Sometimes, I imagine that Leta can still hear me, that my voice wafts across the veil and touches her like a tender lullaby.
Lee Reeves is part-time director of the National Neutropenia Network, a charitable organization for individuals and families affected by neutropenia, the rare disease her daughter was born with. Ms. Reeves is also working on a book about her daughter’s life.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.