The name’s BOND, Hydrogen BOND. I doodled in the margin of my organic chemistry book.

“Quick,” my friend Haley whispered in my ear, “put the chemistry book away.”

I shut the book and slid it under my cushy red Theater 101 seat.

“Seriously, you’re over-reacting,” I whispered back. “Get it? Over-reacting.”

“You’re up,” she said, looking serious. “Professor LuPone just called your name.”

Professor LuPone was our theater professor who used a 140-seat black-box theater as his personal teaching space. The Juilliard alumn was intent on helping his students find their voice, increase their expertise in performance art, and – most importantly – publicly humiliate themselves.

“Fear of criticism, fear of disappointing people, fear of imperfection,” he’d say with a booming voice, “these are the things that cripple you. Lose your fear and free yourself!”

For our mid-term assignment, he passed around a shoe box labeled “Poems” and a shoe box labeled “Characters.” I pulled “Tears, Idle Tears” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson from the poem box and “British Housemaid” from the characters box. To get my “easy A” I was going to have to recite – from memory – a poem of “divine despair” in a cockney accent while miming cleaning a British manor.

Bollocks!

“Miss Osteen?” Professor LuPone said – apparently for the third time. “You’re up.”

My heart stopped when I realized he wasn’t joking. My fellow Theater 101 students stared at me, their eyes wide open and sparkling with mischief. They sensed what was coming.

I wasn’t the type that forgot something like a mid-term – especially one that involved a public performance – but it had been a difficult semester. In order to get out of college debt free, I worked almost full-time at a plus size women’s clothing store (ironic since I was 104 lbs soaking wet) while enrolled as a full-time science major student. Which made me physically and mentally exhausted – full-time.

“Umm, I’m up next week,” I said. “I distinctly remember choosing a last week slot.”

“You’re correct, Miss Osteen,” Professor LuPone said. “And this is the last week.”

Bollocks!

I climbed the stairs to the stage. I stood under the lights, stifling small gasps of tears and panic as twenty-two pairs of eyes stared at me, unblinking.

Come on. You’ve got this. You practiced it a few nights ago. It’s just like camp. It’s just like camp.

Every summer I went to camp. I went to youth camp, basketball camp, computer camp, chess camp, debate camp – you get the picture.  You might think my parents were just trying to rid themselves of me, but I really really loved camp.

A mainstay of camp was “Skit Night.”  Every cabin had to perform a skit so you had no choice but to conquer your public speaking fears. Campers could sing ditties about the camp counselors, perform dramatic dance interpretations to popular songs, or show off their sign language skills – just to name a few possibilities.  I did them all. One year I even won “Best Skit” for my cabin’s dramatic dance interpretation of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” where the kid with a bad teenage mustache dressed like Jesus and lip-synched with painful intensity, “Turn around.” It rocked.

Just like camp. Good posture. Use eye contact with the entire audience. Relax and be natural.

“Tears, Idle Tears a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson,” I proclaimed.

In order to get an A, my classmates had to guess my character, so I started cleaning with vigor. I pretended to sweep the stage floor with a very clean long hair broom. I opened the shutters and started dusting the paintings hanging on the imaginary walls. I made a fake bed while I began the poem in a disastrous Cockney accent:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

There was a long pause. I nervously dusted invisible library books while the next line came to me.

But the next line didn’t come to me.

Professor LuPone tried to help. “In looking on the happy Autumn-fields.”

“In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,” I repeated, while dusting a pretend armoire. My accent now sounded more like Monty Python actor imitating a woman than a British housemaid.

The next line didn’t come to me either.

My professor cleared his throat. “And thinking of the days that are no more.”

“And thinking of the days that are no more,” I repeated, while dusting an unseen bronze bust.

More silence filled the room as I lighted a fire, arranged a breakfast-table with particular neatness, and did a lot more dusting.

I resisted the urge to cringe. I’d been in worse situations I supposed, but none quite so embarrassing. (Except maybe for the time in 9th grade when Poppy Dale picked me up wearing Magnum P.I. short shorts, striped tube socks, and cowboy boots.)

Come on! Just like camp!

Without thinking, I began to sing a song in my head.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Then Professor LuPone’s edict rang over the music, “Lose your fear and free yourself!”

I had but one option.

I stopped dusting and looked at the students, many of whom were already chuckling.

I began, not to sing the song playing in my head, but to sign it – just as I’d done with my cabin at Camp Timberline three years before.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

My friend Haley started to clap to the silent beat. Then the girl on the front row began snapping her fingers and singing along with my signs.

Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine.

Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Gradually, a few more students joined.

Don’t let anyone blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine.

Don’t let anyone blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

When the song finished, I started dusting again.

Thankfully, five very easily entertained students stood up and cheered, clapping and whistling their applause. The rest of the class laughed or were still trying to figure out what had just happened. Even Professor LuPone couldn’t resist grinning at the absurdity of it all.

With great relief, I laid down my imaginary duster and curtsied as any good British housemaid would.

“Thank you, thank you very much.”

From that moment forward, whenever someone forgot a line they wouldn’t say, “Line.” Instead, they’d start fake dusting.

Micah and Maddox,

I promise that you’ll have that same palm-sweating, heart-racing, demoralizing feeling of vulnerability at least once in your life – if you’re lucky, more than once. When that time comes, go ahead: lose your fear, free yourself, and let your light shine!

It’ll be alright.

Who knows, you might even get an B+  –  which is practically as good as an A anyway.

Love,

Your Mum