Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I watched Alicia Keys’ performance at the Hope for Haiti Telethon last night and at first, I judged her, thinking, “Wow. She sounds terrible. Her voice is straining and she’s not hitting her notes well.” After awhile, it occurred to me that her performance wasn’t about perfection. It was was about singing from the deepest part of the soul where things are raw and drenched in truth. As I sat there watching, I dropped the expectation of perfection. I got out of the way and just listened. Pretty soon, my disdain turned to inspiration because this woman was singing from here heart – a place where I’ve been longing to sing from for years. But, each time, I make my way up to the edge of the cliff, ready to fling myself off with abandon, I chicken out. The distrust of my truest voice winning out and snatching me back from the edge, hurling me back to safe and “perfect”.
One of the storylines on Grey’s Anatomy this week was an opera singer with a spot on his lung. When told a piece of his lung had to be removed, he freaked out and said something like this:
“Singing is my life. When I go to a restaurant and the food I order comes out wrong, I want to scream at the waiter and choke him. But, I don’t. I kindly ask him to take it back, knowing that it’s best for me to keep my emotions under control. But, when I sing, I don’t have to play small. I get to storm the waiter and dance on his grave. And I get to do that every night. Because of this, I can play small when I have to. If you take my lung, I will have to play small every moment of every day, and if that’s the case, I’d rather die. Singing is my life.”
The good news is that it’s a television show and this guy gets to walk off set and resume his normal life – cancer free. However, it left me thinking about perfection and playing small. I’m tired of playing small – I am. But the very thing that keeps me from dancing on my waiter’s grave is perfection. Or, perhaps more accurately – the fear of being seen as imperfect. Alecia Keyes was perfect last night and it’s not because she hit all the right notes, but because she was singing from her heart with truth and honor. She rose to the need of the moment without censorship or measure – and in my opinion, that’s perfection.
You can't lead a cavalry if you think that you look funny riding a horse.
- John Peers