For much of my adult life I have held back from expressing my voice. I thought that once I had refined my thoughts and written what I wanted to say in a precise and organized fashion that my voice would be worthy of sharing. The problem was that I could never get it right. My thoughts refused to come out exactly the way I wanted, so instead of risking vulnerability and criticism, I opted to silence myself, and I put my ideas on hold for a better time when they would come together in a more articulate, concise, and profound way.
I found myself particularly out of my comfort zone this week when I assumed a role that I had never undertaken: sports commentator. It was the much anticipated staff versus eighth grade boys’ basketball game, and I sat shoulder to shoulder on packed bleachers with my seventh grade students. To my left sat one of my students who has a visual impairment severe enough to prevent him from seeing a basketball game from the position of the courtside bleachers. He could experience the excitement in the air as hundreds of amped up middle school students stomped in sync, clapped, and cheered. He could hear the intermingled voices of his peers amidst all the chaos, and he could periodically catch a score update, but his limited eye vision could not capture the play-by-play action on the court.
Realizing that it would be difficult for my student to fully enjoy the game without some commentary, I clumsily and inarticulately began to string together a verbal account of the game as it unfolded before us. I messed up on technical terms many times along the way. I didn’t verbalize every play perfectly. During my hurried description, I missed a few ball fumbles here and a few passes there. I had to recruit one of the boys sitting in front of me to be a second set of eyes and double check my facts. “Who fouled whom?” I leaned over and shouted above the roar of excited students, my hands waving wildly in the air as I struggled to quickly and succinctly convey the back and forth action of the game to my student. I’m certain my loud voice and dramatic gestures must have pegged me as an over-aggressive sports enthusiast to the elementary teachers sitting on the other side of the court with their classes.
I stole a glance at my student from time to time, embarrassed by my inability to express the correct technical terms of the plays taking place on the court. When I saw the smile on his face, I knew that he was not concerned that my ability as a sports commentator was less than ESPN worthy. He was not judging me for misstating what type of foul Mr. M. just committed or for accidentally calling a Hook Shot a Jump Shot. My commentary was enough to paint an image in his mind of an experience that he would not have been able to fully engage in without my shaky, inarticulate words. When the game ended, we parted ways to our separate third period classes, but not before he expressed one of the sincerest thanks yous I have ever received from a seventh grade student.
My experience as a sports commentator reminded me that we can’t always wait for a time when point a and point b line up perfectly to let our voices be heard. Sometimes others need to hear our voices, even when we have not rehearsed what to say and our words come out in a jumbled mess. A scratchy, hoarse throat followed me throughout the rest of the day, reminding me of the power of voice, of language, and of words. Not necessarily the kind of words that are perfectly polished and refined, but words that grasp, claw, and struggle to convey ideas for the authentic purpose of helping another see, feel, and experience a moment.