As published by Findhorn Foundation, 28 Dec 2017
Dear Stevie Wonder,
Last night I sang Overjoyed to my four year old daughter at bedtime. Laying next to me in purple pajamas, her playful, overtired chatter immediately quieted upon hearing the first notes I hummed as my fingers snapped the tune. Surely she felt her mother’s soul explode wide open, rooted, in love with your song and how I feel when I sing it.
This morning, turning away from my inner nagging, an incessant push for productivity, I chose instead to take a walk with earphones on the old cobblestone streets of southern Sweden, playing the song as I walked. Volume turned up high, the brilliance you create with your sound became my world, and I sang, ‘Overjoyed… I’ve been building my castle of love…’ Cold droplets of rain landed on my nose, balancing the heat of your song in my chest.
Boots in rhythm on the old wet streets, I walked. And with the first word I sang in duet with you, it was as if my throat sent tears up to my eyes and all the world’s pressure dropped away.
A man passed me, smoking a cigarette, and the smoke didn’t bother me the way it usually does. My American English singing voice might have stood out to people I passed, and I didn’t care even though “standing out” isn’t exactly celebrated in Sweden.
I sang on. Just for two… though you never knew you were my reason… I mirrored the sound of your silky deep voice, lungs inhaling the fresh scent of rain, and I knew without a doubt that nothing else mattered. A castle of love? I will stand and I will stand out for that.
Something miraculous happens when I sing with you, Stevie. Down from my music-making mouth, something bigger than me peels my throat open and expands my rib cage, from the top down. Is it sound? Is it breath? Is it God? Suddenly the tightness I have felt about life on Earth at this time evaporates inside my open ribs.
Wildfires, melting icebergs, missiles and bombs. Robbery, guns, humanity in despair. While I sing, it all lifts itself up off my shoulders, as if to climb through the castle of love’s windows, then disintegrate.
Even as your voice raises up its volume, and I want to wail, I step off the sidewalk and quiet my voice to make space for a woman approaching with a baby, perhaps asleep, in a stroller. ‘And maybe too if you would believe, you too might be overjoyed… over love… o-o-o-over me.’
Two weeks ago on a city tram, I taught my daughter what it means to be blind. “Some people’s eyes don’t work the way yours do,” I told her. “They read with their hands, or with their hearts.” She touched the braille bumps on the tram’s red stop button, enchanted.
Clearly, you see with your heart. In this world of so much pull to move away from the heart and into fear’s enslavement, you have chosen to share your biggest gift – your enormous capacity to feel love – through sound, through song.
When I sing with you I feel free from everything that doesn’t really fit me. Free to sing from the landscape of the child inside my chest, free to further unfold in expressing my art, less captive inside all the rules of society. These are freedoms available to us all, always… yet often so seemingly out of reach.
Song returns us instantly.
I can’t help it. Sitting now, writing this letter to you, earphones plugged in to play that song again, my hands do the same thing they did as I walked this morning. They lift themselves up, like I’m standing hip to hip with a gospel choir. I barely make them move; it is as if I am totally filled with Spirit. And God knows, I am.
It is to God we sing every love song, isn’t it Stevie? Beneath it all, it is with God whom we fall in love. Singing with you and singing every other song I love indescribably, insecurity whisks away because I am singing a love song to God.
I don’t know what is happening inside my body when I sing with you, like this, but I don’t need to know. It is freedom. It is Home.
Overjoyed, over love, right beside you,
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.