Recently my friend Addie started her sophomore year of high school. On her first day a teacher asked the students to gather in small groups and introduce themselves by sharing their walk-up song with each other. When her mom told me this, I was walking at the park, and I wondered, “What is my walk-up song?” By the end of one lap, I had arrived at my answer, but more on that later.
I did not have a walk-up song when I was a sophomore in high school, or anytime before then. In fact, as a young girl, I might have been found quietly positioned behind the door leading into my home’s family room. I longed to be in the room with my parents, but I also didn’t want to be an intrusion or a disruption. I settled for the comfort of proximity, catching the sliver of light through the crack in the door and the muffled sounds of their voices and the TV.
Now, as I draw near this hidden child with her nylon nightgown and choppy short hair, I beckon her out of the shadows and into the safety of my presence. I begin singing a tune she knows by heart, coaxing her to join me:
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine
This is your walk-up song, little one. Embrace it…sing it…shine.
In middle school I began to notice the girls who captured the gaze of others. Did they have a walk-up song? I couldn’t hear it, but I felt the energy surrounding them and saw my friends—especially the boys—take notice. It was the 1980s, so perhaps these girls were hearing Irene Cara, Duran Duran, or Stevie Nicks in their heads when they walked into a room. Instead of a walk-up song, I heard the voices of comparison and diminishment. And I felt the demand to leave childhood behind and grow up.
I imagine sidling up next to this lanky teenager with her newly permed hair (it was the 80s, after all) and brace-faced smile as she walks into the school gym. I cut comparison off before it reaches her, and I place foam-covered earphones over her curls; then, I press play on her Walkman. Words from Cyndi Lauper catch her attention and stir her soul:
Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest o’ the world
I wanna be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls, they wanna have fun
That’s all they really want
Here’s your walk-up song, I tell her. Walk in the sun…have fun…keep shining.
In high school I started trying on different walk-up songs for size. This tune was too peppy; that one too edgy; and that one too angsty. Oftentimes it was easier to allow my friends, who I deemed more charismatic, easy-going, or popular, to walk into a room in front of me, and the lingering notes of their walk-in songs would spill onto me. The songs that felt the truest to me were songs of longing, dreaming, and loving—not exactly songs that conveyed positivity, confidence, or energy.
“But they speak of your deep heart, your devotion, and your presence,” I observe, as I join her on the golden shag carpet of her bedroom floor. “These things set you apart and capture the attention of others.” I slide a cassette into the tape player, and soon Madonna is singing her favorite song:
Oh baby, I cherish the joy
You keep bringing it into my life
I’m always singing it, cherish your strength
You got the power to make me feel good
And baby, I perish the thought
Of ever leaving, I never would
Embrace your own song, I urge her. Enjoy it…cherish it…shine on.
It seems a lifetime has passed since I have been each of these girls, and in a way, it has. I am now a middle-aged woman, but, as Madeleine L’Engle keenly observed, “I am still every age that I have been.” I am learning to more readily, more wisely, and more kindly invite these girls—and so many others that I carry within me—to reclaim space that was rightfully theirs and to join me as I take up space today. I gently beckon them out of the shadows and into the light. “Join me,” I say, “Let’s walk in together.”
On this recent summer day as the local high school convened for its first day, I walked a familiar trail, pondering the question, “What is my walk-up song?” I thought about my journey over the past few decades, especially the last five years, and eventually one song leapt to mind.
“That’s it,” I realized. “That’s my walk-up song.” I smiled.
What is your walk-up song? I invite you to think about it. And if you discover you don’t currently have one, then you’re welcome to borrow mine until you find your own:
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Compelled by a burgeoning interest in trauma recovery, she pursued training at The Allender Center, completing the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, Level I and Level 2. Susan and Tim, her husband of 29 years, are the parents of two sons, now young adults, and are adjusting to a nest that, while different, is far from empty.nbsp