In third grade, I played the title role in my school’s Christmas musical, The Littlest Christmas Tree. They strapped me with a Styrofoam tree that had a hole cut out for my face. Very adorable. I got the role because I was the littlest kid in my grade. Typecasting, whaddyagonnado. Who knows what fertile seeds that sowed for my nascent Napoleon complex at the time.
The big showstopper was my solo, “Christmas Is Love.” At the performance in front of the entire student body assembled in the gymnasium, the pianist played the opening bars two or three times, because I didn’t know when to come in. Finally, I sang…
Christmas is love, Christmas is caring.
Christmas is friends together sharing.
Christmas is what our dreams are made of.
But more than anything, Christmas is love…
At some point while singing, I spotted a couple of fifth-graders at the back of the gym. They were laughing betwixt themselves about the performance and making “retard” gestures. Suddenly they were the only two people in the gym, despite the hundreds of other kids and faculty who were present and dutifully watching the play.
I stuttered once or twice. Ch-Christmas is laughter, hope and j-joy… I kept going, even as the humiliation welled up inside me. Filling the hearts of girls and boys…
I wanted to die, but I knew I had to finish this accursed song: Christmas is what our dreams are made of. But more than anything, Chriiistmaaas iiis looove.
Obligatory applause, Santa does his thing, everyone is happy, end of Christmas play. I removed my tree costume — carefully, so as not to snap it — and walked back to my empty classroom alone, where I cradled my face in my arms on my desk and cried. The rest of my class reported directly to recess.
A girl who I liked entered the darkened classroom, walked up to where I was baptizing my desk, and asked me if I was okay, and what was wrong? Through tears, I told her what I had seen. She didn’t know what to say, so she stepped out to join the others outside so I could keep sulking.
That night, I vowed never to step onto another stage for as long as I lived.
Four years later, I ran for seventh-grade class president. I wanted to do something I didn’t think I could do: write and deliver a campaign speech. I wrote the speech just like real politicians do. I filled it with the appropriately empty rhetoric that stirs the heart. More pop machines, yadda yadda.
I stood at the podium in front of the seventh-grade student body and delivered my speech. My knees shook violently, but I spoke loudly and clearly, and I finished my speech to the sound of vigorous applause and a sea of smiling faces.
That surprised me. I had expected booing.
A friend of mine afterward told me I had done a good job, despite the fact that he could see my knees shaking from his vantage point at the back of the gym. I smiled.
I came in last place in the election. But I had delivered a blow to three of my most steadfast enemies: the two fifth graders who had been haunting my mind for four years, and my own terror.
Since then, I’ve been onstage hundreds of times as a musician, actor, rapper, poet, singer, and event host. These days, I actually enjoy the occasional feeling of nervousness.
This Christmas and throughout 2012, I wish you the defeat of your most steadfast enemies.
Or maybe just love. Yeah. I wish you love.