I wrote this back in February. I submitted it to Man Repeller’s Writers Club contest. The prompt was, “Tell me a great love story.” It didn’t get published. I’m going to publish it here now.
It was Adam’s turn to sing.
Adam hadn’t performed in front of us once all semester. He had severe anxiety that didn’t allow him to sing in front of our class, and so he sang in private sessions with the teacher.
It was the last class for the semester – exactly a week before Christmas. Flurries of snow were falling outside, and my classmates and I were getting antsy sitting in a small, warm university classroom, performing amateur songs in our amateur singing class.
Our teacher Lisa had one rule: “Never be mean. Do not criticize or laugh at someone else’s voice. Say only positive things about people’s performances. If you are mean, I will make you leave my classroom.”
If most people would rather die than speak in public, then singing in public must be one of Dante’s levels of hell. Whenever one of us performed a song, Lisa would ask the class, “What did you like about the song?”
After my first performance, it was terrifying waiting for the compliments, wondering if anybody could think of anything positive. There was silence for 20 agonizing seconds. But then one person said, “I love how enthusiastic you are while singing.” And my heart started pumping again.
Thanks to her one rule, Lisa cultivated a psychologically safe environment that made us fearless. She gave encouraging feedback, saying things like, “You have more voice in you. Let’s see if we can get you to project more.”
She taught techniques enabling us to sing louder and make our voices richer. At one point she had a girl whack a music stand with her scarf while belting out an Italian aria. (It was intended to engage the diaphragm.) The girl’s voice became loud and powerful like an opera singer’s, stunning us into an exchange of excited whispers and gleeful glances.
We improved our feeble voices, cheering each other on. And now, for the first time, we were going to hear Adam sing.
He got out of his seat and carried a laptop to the piano, placing the laptop on the piano. He pressed a button on his laptop and the music began to play.
The class was silent. Every single eye was on him.
It was a quiet song. The laptop speakers were quiet, and and so was he. He quietly sang, looking over our heads and straight to the back of the room. But who were we to criticize the miracle that was happening before our eyes?
When he was finished, Lisa asked her question.
There was no waiting. Hands shot up. “I love how much heart you put into the song,” one student said. “You have a really nice voice and you stay on key,” said another.
I didn’t get a chance to compliment him – there were too many people who wanted to say something.
Great love stories don’t just lie in romantic and grandiose gestures. They exist in encouraging teachers, in small university classrooms, and in people who just want to see each other overcome their fears and succeed.