So I worked out recently, apparently because I’m a bit behind the times, that I’m a chorister. That I don’t get a choice in that. That’s just who and what I am, and I could no more change it than I could grow taller, or suddenly become pretty. And it’s cripplingly hard to sing at times; the very act of standing with my choir family, and allowing my voice to blend into the glorious mass of music we’re creating, opens me up to pain, and emotion, and fear, and makes me vulnerable to flashbacks and panic attacks and all of the shittiness of post-traumatic stress disorder. But I can’t not sing. I can’t not be a chorister.
Choir famine – known by people less pathetic than I as “choir holiday” – ended today. I found myself in the choristers’ vestry in the Cathedral, and it was like coming home. It was the incredulous, disbelieving relief of a caught fish released from harsh heavy sunlight into the cool lightness of its home pool. It was the blessed intimacy of an expatriate hearing her native language, of an exile returning to the depth of familiarity of his home streets. And my voice was strong and not horrifically inaccurate (although my choirmaster might have a different opinion), and the music seared itself into my very soul and I felt my blood sing for joy – this is where I belong. This is what I should be doing. This is where I am known, and accepted, and don’t have to put on a front or play a role, and can find the courage to simply be my own self. This is where I am loved, and love in turn. This is where I know just how deeply I am blessed.
There are two times I can remember that I compromised the choir, when I was with my ex. The second time: I had a concussion, sustained on the Saturday night, and on the Sunday morning when I stood up the world ducked and weaved around me and I felt the spinning nausea of drunkenness without a drop of alcohol passing my lips. I missed out on singing a Sunday morning service, and I woke at midday to several concerned messages from people who – despite my best attempts to keep myself apart – had become friends. The first time: I was frightened, and things were bad, and, reading the cues from the man who was the centre of my universe, whose whims determined whether I was safe, whether I slept, whether I took blow after blow to crush me, I messaged my choirmaster to tell him that I couldn’t make Evensong. I think, from memory, that the flimsy excuse was that I was too tired. I did it to avoid a beating; my memory is that it didn’t work. I seem to remember that I took one anyway. A bit of a waste, then, really. Plus, I missed out on good music.
That was the last time I deliberately compromised myself as a chorister (I’m not counting the second time: I could hardly help having a concussion). From then on, singing became the thing – over friendships, over my writing, over work, even over my own safety – that I never compromised. I would sing, each Friday night’s rehearsal and each Sunday, knowing what the consequences would be: I knew that there would be punishment. The chances of taking a beating – or at least a few bright, heavy blows – were pretty good. But I was willing to pay that price. Some things are worth taking a beating for.
Right now, singing’s hard, and to be frank, I’d rather take the physical pain of a beating than I would live with the brutal reality of my own mind betraying me. But I don’t get that choice. Singing is hard, and painful, and I really wish it wasn’t, but it is – and surely anything that’s worth taking a beating for is important enough to persevere with.
Because, whether I like it or not, I’m a chorister. And that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.