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The National Anthem
As I focus on my melody, the occasional tones of a casual conversation not far away overcome the muffled chaos of a much larger crowd just outside. Taking a deep breath, I lower myself to the cool concrete floor. Once seated, I toss a small, hard ball into the air two feet above my hand. The words “Toledo Mud Hens” swirl so fast that they become illegible. I catch the ball and study the red lacing, hoping to distract myself from the task at hand. This keepsake is a gift from the strong but gentle security guard who led us to this peaceful haven of rest twelve minutes ago. I look around at my two sisters. The older closes her eyes and rests her head against the dullish-gray wall behind her. She is strong but tired, tired of waiting.
“Alivia, hold still!” Mother whispers, careful not to disturb the conversation that floats from a room nearby, through an open doorway, and to our little hall. She yanks at my little sibling’s long, brown hair with the same brush she once used on me.
Alivia’s blue eyes begin to tear, but not only from the pain of Mother ripping tangles out of her hair. She didn’t want to sing with us, but our trio was incomplete without her. The reason we’re here is because she’s a gymnast. We three sisters are singers, and the entire gymnastics team and its mother have fallen in love with our voices ever since we first performed the Star Spangled Banner for the Pickaway County home gymnastics meet. Therefore, when word got out about auditions for singing the National Anthem before a minor league baseball game, we couldn’t resist such a great opportunity. Not that any of us are big baseball fans, but we are here for Alivia’s national YMCA gymnastics competition in Toldeo, Ohio and received tickets for the game after nailing the singing auditions.
“I don’t see why you guys are so nervous.” Adrienne peeks up from her sleepy position. “We’re just singing for a baseball game, not the world.”
“Yeah, but what if I can’t hit my note on ‘land of the free’?” I fiddle with my baseball, occupying my shaking fingers. Even though it’s late June and most human beings in Ohio have sweat dripping from their forehead, a cold chill shoots up my spine. I always get cold when I’m nervous.
“Amy.” Mother’s tone is firm. “Stop fretting.”
I sigh, and glance at Alivia. Her cracked lip turns down at the ends. “Hey, Wiss,” I perk, hoping the use of her nickname will cheer her spirit, “try not to let this ball pass you and make it to Mom.” I roll the baseball forcefully toward her. She stops it, smiles, and pushes it across the smooth, hard floor. I repeat the motion, this time with a funny face. A giggle arises from her nine-year-old mouth.
“What’s taking so long?” Mother asks no one in particular. “I’m going to check it out.” She opens the metal door, the only thing that held back the clash of countless conversations. Noise swarms in like bees to honey. Outside, water falls from the sky and drenches the few workers who are desperately running to cover the baseball field with giant tarps. Well, it used to be sunny anyway, I think, ignoring the greasy smell of French fries, hotdogs, and pizza cooking in the walkways of the stadium. The thought of food-- even popcorn-- terrifies my stomach to the point of nearly vomiting.
After a few minutes, the rain stops, leaving behind thousands of wet seats, a delayed schedule, and the refreshing, misty smell of something natural. Surely, now we’ll be able to get out there and sing. The clock ticks more slowly with each second. I hate waiting.
Mom returns with a short, dark-headed woman with black pants, red shirt, and a large Walkie-Talkie fastened to her belt. The worker’s young face and smile reveal few years of toil with the games’ complications. “These are my three daughters,” Mother explains as we all rise to our feet, “they’re the singers.”
“Okay, if you can just follow me, we’ll get you down to the field and then…” She leads us outside into the crowd while giving instructions. All around me, food stands, whiney children, eager fathers, and tired mothers crowd the walkway. The worker leads us past puffy pretzels rotating in a glass cabinet. Had I been here another day, this food would have pulled at my taste buds, watering my mouth and tempting my stomach. Today, however, I’m such a nervous wreck that I haven’t been able to eat normally for the past week. The last thing I want is some salty browned dough.
“You can wait here.” The young woman offers once we’re near a dugout to the side of the field. I glance across the luscious green grass to see a few baseball players throwing small, round objects much like my keepsake back and forth to each other. Though these men seem so passionate about their job, I don’t understand the thrill in attempting to hit a ball with a metal stick, taking the chance that I might strike out, and then running from white pad to white pad before somebody else can catch the ball.
Maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye. Maybe these men enjoy the game not because they can hit the ball and run fast, but from the applause of the crowd and satisfaction in the use of their talents. Maybe it’s like singing. Sure, to sing I don’t have to dress in tight, dorky pants and wear an oversized glove, but I do find satisfaction in pleasing my Audience of one and using the talent that He has given me for His glory.
“And now, please rise for the National Anthem,” The voice over the intercom refocuses my attention, cueing my sisters and me to step out to the skinny black microphone, “sung by Alivia, Amy, and Adrienne.” The sandy pitcher’s mound surrenders to my black heels while I prepare to vocalize the song. After a few seconds of calming nerves and clearing throats, we begin.
Our voices flow into the atmosphere, twisting, dancing, and falling into the microphone. The powerful melody grows too great for the stadium’s sound system to comprehend; all the technology knows to do is squeal a deafeningly high note. The technician quickly makes adjustments, and our sound once again clearly bursts through the speakers. We continue to build as the strong harmony creates goose bumps on my arms. “… and the home of the brave.” Our trio finishes, welcoming an explosion of applause.
As I focus on my melody, the song I just performed with my sisters, a smile of satisfaction creeps up my face. Even with all the nerves, all the noise, everything that distracted me just minutes ago, I pushed through to complete my task. I did it for God. And I rocked it.