34: Let There Be Light

34: Let There Be Light

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Let There Be Light

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

My heart was beating so hard in my chest I thought everyone around me could hear it. I was gulping in air as fast as my lungs would let me, and I could feel a cool shiver run down my back. I was nervous. Really nervous.

People were filing into the old, white church getting ready for the annual Christmas Pageant. Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends, teachers, and other students shuffled in from the cold and settled themselves in the wooden pews. The huge space was alive with noise as the floors and seats creaked and moaned with every movement, and the growing crowd murmured unintelligibly to one another.

From the second floor balcony, I saw my mom and dad looking around for me. When my mom spotted me, she waved enthusiastically and smiled. My dad gave me the thumbs up.

Around me, my classmates were laughing, making jokes, and squirming restlessly in their seats. Christmas break started the next day, and everyone was busy talking about their plans for the holiday and what they wanted for Christmas. While they chatted around me, I quietly sat in my chair and tried not to panic.

I had agreed to read at the pageant. No—not only read, but read a poem of my own composition. It seemed like a good idea at the time, yet as I waited for everything to start I couldn’t remember why I had said yes.

I had loved poetry from the moment I read “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost in my fifth grade English class. I was fascinated by the way people could convey any feeling through poems, and was endlessly intrigued by the different styles and presentations a poem could use. My first poem, “Bumpkin Isle,” was published in the school writing journal at the end of the year and from that day on, I was known to my friends and teachers as the class poet.

Just before Thanksgiving, the vice principal had called me into his office.

“Nacie, I want this year’s pageant to be extra special. Could you write something for it? I would love to have an original composition presented during the event.”

“Sure,” I said with a smile, my dreams of being a famous poet swelling and swirling in my mind. I left his office with the sounds of the cheering crowd, the roar of approval, and the adoring fans loud in my ears. This was going to be awesome.

For weeks, I worked on my poem, carefully crafting the structure, sound, and voice. I reread my Emily Dickinson and William Wordsworth for inspiration. I practiced reciting it aloud. I sent a copy to my friend Becky for her to edit, and I revised, revised, revised. By December 17th, the day of the pageant, I was ready.

Well, I was ready until I looked around and realized how many people were there. And how big the hall was. And how little I felt. How could I present a piece of my poetry to 400 people? Who was I kidding? I was just a seventh grader for gosh sakes! No one would take my work seriously! I sat in my hard wooden chair and tried to make myself disappear. Maybe they would forget I was supposed to read.

“Hey Nacie, I saw your name in the program. Good luck!” My little brother’s voice rose above the din as he took his seat a few rows down with his class. I nodded feebly and wrapped my hands around my stomach, trying to keep the butterflies at bay. Then the lights dimmed, the crowd quieted, and the principal took the stage to introduce the show. It was starting.

I was presenting toward the end of the program, and because of that had to sit through an hour of absolute anxious misery. It wasn’t until the girls from the fourth grade class were singing “Silent Night” that my teacher brought me downstairs next to the stage. My mind was blank, my eyes were wide, and my mouth went totally dry. I kept hoping they would never finish the song—we could make up a few extra verses to “Silent Night” on the spot, couldn’t we?

Then suddenly, I was on stage with the bright white lights blinding my view of the audience and the feeling that my throat was closing up. I leaned in to the microphone and tried to speak. The only thing that squeaked out was a whispery “eek” noise. I looked down, cleared my throat, and gripped the edges of the podium. There was no turning back now.

I looked up and out into that bright, breathing space and tried out my voice again as I read the title: “Let There Be Light.” My voice boomed from the speakers loudly and sounded much more confident than I felt.

The room was silent as I began my piece, and I tried to focus on the words and forget the people, even though the lights made the stage hot and my hands and knees were shaking. I didn’t dare look toward the part of the room where my parents were sitting—I was too nervous. My voice echoed in the old, wooden room and my mind went into auto-drive. The words somehow came out in the right order, the lines flowed together appropriately, and I even remembered which words to emphasize. I finally came to the last line of the poem and breathed a deep sigh of relief. “And God saw that the light was good.” It was over.

The room was dead silent for what felt like an eternity. Was this a dream? Was there anyone in here? I swallowed hard. Maybe no one liked it. I felt like I was going to faint.

Then out of the silence there was clapping, cheering, and smiling. I dared to find my family in the sea of faces, and found my mother wiping away tears and my father beaming. I had done it. I had shared a piece of my poetry with the world, and now that it was over I felt great. With a giddy, light-headed feeling and a silly smile I bowed slightly and walked off stage.

“Great job!” “That was awesome!” “I loved it!”

“Thank you,” I said to each person who greeted me as I staggered back to my seat, relief and gratitude spreading warmly through my body.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for not laughing. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for making my first poetry reading a memorable and inspiring one. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for helping me take the first step toward achieving my dream.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

~Nacie Carson

More stories from our partners