I stared into an auditorium filled with the wide eyes of anxious and excited parents and school faculty as I stood in the front row of the school choir.
We were about to sing, Ode to Joy, the finale of our public elementary school program. Then, thankfully, I spotted my parents sitting third row, center, with their big reassuring smiles. I was five years old, and although I’d already performed in front of many audiences from the age of two, playing and singing folk songs and gospel music with my parents and brother, I wasn’t feeling so confident at this school function. These lyrics were complicated, and I didn’t understand many of the words which were way above a Kindergartener’s scope of comprehension. Plus, I was terribly self conscious standing in the front row of a five row choir (because I was amongst the shortest in the group of Kindergarteners through 6th graders), and I really didn’t want to mess this up in front my classmates and what to me felt like the whole wide world.
My thoughts drifted back to just an hour or so before this moment, when I was sitting in the backseat of the Volvo as Daddy drove us to the school for my performance. I wriggled about, and leaned over the front seats (in the days before seatbelts were required) and rehearsed the song over and over again for my parents until Mommy said, “Summy, just sing your heart out! It will be wonderful!”
I hung onto those words as I stared at the silent and apprehensive audience in front of me. I sucked in a deep breath, waiting to bellow the first note of the song. Our teacher struck the first chord, and the jaws of the choir unhinged in unison, as the sounds glorifying God came from our mouths. It was spectacular! I felt ecstatic as our voices crescendoed with the last words, “Joyful music leads us Sunward, in the triumph song of life!”
Then came the moment that I looked forward to most of all. Our teacher wanted the song to end with a sustained, “Amen!” as in “Ahhhhhh….mennnn.” We had rehearsed it over and over again in school and, because it was so important to my teacher, this was the part I’d rehearsed more than any other part of the song. I took in a deep, deep breath to be able to sustain that word, and from my heart I proudly bellowed the words: “A PEN!” (Not a typo.)
The crowd went wild, and jumped to their feet in a standing ovation! I’d done it! I survived my first elementary school concert! I nailed it! I sang those last words perfectly.
In the Volvo on the way home I was dancing in delight as I chattered with my parents about the concert. “Did you hear me? Did you hear me?” They glanced at each other knowingly, with grins on their faces. Mommy said, “Yes, will you sing that last word? We could hear it!”
I proudly filled my lungs with air, tilted my head back and sang with all my heart and soul, “Aaaaaa pennnnn!”
They giggled just a little.
“You mean, 'Amen',” Mommy said.
"Huh? No, Mommy," I said emphatically, "It's 'a pen.'"
Then I asked, naively, "I know 'Amen,' but...well, what does 'Amen' mean anyway?” I knew the word "Amen" from some of the folk and gospel songs we sang, but I never really thought about the meaning.
“Amen is what is said at the end of prayers. It’s like saying, ‘Yes, I agree,’” Mommy said.
I was reeling in confusion. "But, 'a pen' is about writing. The song we sang was about ‘a pen!’”
My Daddy laughed so hard, I’m surprised he didn’t lose control of the car.
I sat back in my seat and silently pondering my “mistake.”
A-pen. A-men. A pen. Amen.
I finally came to the conclusion that “Amen” was from heaven and, to me (someone who, from the age of four, aspired to be a writer) a pen was like heaven to me.
I smiled knowing that I could not only sing my heart out so loudly that my parents could hear me above the rest of the choir, but that I would eventually write my heart out, too, and be heard.