I flew from New Jersey back to LA yesterday after a long week on the East Coast, a whirlwind trip complete with sales training, a blizzard that wasn’t, and a pilot who looked like the love child of George Hamilton and Don Johnson. I settled into my cab, lost in my thoughts as we drove along the 405, when I suddenly heard:
“Near, far, whereEVVVVVER you are”….
My cab driver was singing Celine Dion. Operatically, at full volume, and just slightly off-key. I’m not sure what prompted the outburst. There was no other music playing to cue him. It was as if he just could not contain himself for another second and had to belt out that his heart would go on. This was followed an Elvis Presley song but not, as he explained in broken English, the way Elvis had sung it. My cab driver liked this to also sound like opera.
After 10 years of living in NYC, I’ve encountered my share of eccentric cab drivers. I’ve been in the traveling ministry “Rolling for Jesus” cab driven by Pastor Phil (for real). I’ve had the Chinese Astrologer cab driver, who told me that my “snake” sign was completely incompatible with my boss’s “monkey” sign while my boss was sitting right next to me. I’ve been hit by a cab while crossing an intersection, a hood ornament for a full three seconds, causing the driver to cry and plead with me to not call the police. I’ve even been proposed to be a cab driver. (He was kidding. I hope.)
But never has my cab driver burst unabashedly into song for an audience of one in the backseat.
I was slightly taken aback initially. There was no preamble, no explanation, no warning. He didn’t ease into it, he didn’t look for my reaction. He just sang his heart out.
My feelings gave way to awe. This man, clearly not a singer by trade, or by talent level, felt comfortable enough to do something that brought him joy in front of a stranger, without an expectation of criticism, or judgment. Or just not caring.
When was the last time I didn’t care what other people thought of me?
Was it when I was in pre-school, and hopped on the stage and sang Annie songs for everyone, convinced I was just as good as the real Annie and that everyone else would surely think so too? Was it in my jazz recitals, shaking my booty to “Black Bottom” before anyone hinted that dancing was maybe not my forte and how about sports instead? Was it when I raised my hand in Mrs. Degnan’s first grade class, or sometimes just shouted out the answer without raising my hand because I was sure I was right?
Do I have to go back nearly 30 years to find this? Or worse, did it never really exist for me?
It seems like I’ve always cared.
I cared what you think.
I cared when you rolled your eyes at my idea.
I cared when you pointed out how I should really never get bangs again.
I cared when you looked at me like I was crazy.
I became cautious. Hesitant. Ready for judgment before it was even there. Doing what I was good at and avoiding what I wasn’t. Terrified of making a mistake because what will people think of me if they know I make mistakes, if they know just how imperfect I am??? Holding onto that façade, playing it safe, and staying guarded was my protection against judgment.
Until I realized, after far too much time, that keeping up that façade wasn’t actually working. I still felt judged. I still got rejected. I still had my heart broken. The shell I built around me didn’t protect me from any of it—judgment and pain seeped through the cracks. All the shell did was keep other people from seeing the real me, from connecting with the real me.
It was in the heartbreak that things began changing. I couldn’t pretend that I was okay. It took too much energy to try to be perfect. So instead I went in a different direction. I found a safe space, through yoga, and was gently coaxed into showing the person behind the shell. I found a yoga teacher who encouraged behavior that pushed past the fear of what others would think:
Fall. Laugh. Dance. Sing. Sing Loudly. Let Go.
It was as if my subconscious had needed someone’s permission that it was okay to be me, okay to fall, okay to be imperfect. That it didn’t matter if someone thought I shouldn’t have bangs, or even if they thought I was crazy. It only mattered if I was being true to ME.
And with that permission, I was able to begin to slowly emerge from the façade.
I still care what other people think. That may always be a part of me. But each time I fall and laugh, each time I get tossed into the center of a dance circle, it lessens just a bit.
I got into my car after work today and, somehow, the Bluetooth on my phone picked up the video of my cab driver belting Celine Dion instead of my regular playlist. I don’t even know how it happened; maybe I left the video open and it just played on a loop until it found its home in the speakers in my car. But I smiled, then laughed out loud at his voice, amplified throughout my car.
And I sang along with him, sang loudly, and let go.