Feeling insecure is not all that uncommon for teenagers. Sometimes, this insecurity, if left unchecked, can lead to debilitating consequences. For me, this period of insecurity occurred at a critical time when, because of a family move, I had to change school districts on top of already being very shy and anxious around others. For years, others had teased me; their jabs felt like heavy blows, but I could only hide my feelings. On my first day of class at my new school, I sunk into my chair in homeroom and waited for the inevitable jokes. It might have been my imagination because no one said anything, but I felt as if everyone was staring. For that matter, no one said anything to me for days. By the end of the week, I was feeling really isolated and lonely when one day, quite unexpectedly, the previously-open chair to my right was occupied by another student.
“Hi, I’m Gurpratap, call me Gurp.” Some people might have noticed the turban and full beard. All I saw was a smiling face.
“Hello, I’m Adam.”
“You’re new here. Where are you from? I saw you play bass in orchestra. How long have you played?”
I had noticed Gurp since the first day. He was tall and had an easy-going way about him. What stuck out the most was how popular he was. In between classes, I would hear his singing echo down the halls and bring smiles to the faces of students and teachers alike. He seemed to be friends with everyone. He was the kind of guy I yearned to be like – confident and popular.
In the second week, our English teacher assigned us the task of finding a partner for the next day’s assignment. I dreaded the inevitable awkwardness of receiving the “I already have a partner” line from anyone I’d ask, so I was in complete disbelief when Gurp asked me to be his partner. Without knowing much else about him, I accepted, fearing this sort of opportunity would be rare in my time at this new school. In class the next day, we received the prompt for a writing assignment: “What were you once afraid of?” Gurp turned to me and offered to go first, and what he told me couldn’t have been any more of what I needed to hear. He told me that he was once afraid of being judged for the superficial aspects of his character – his turban, his beard, and his Sikh heritage – and that these surface judgments would hold him back from blossoming into the confident man he knew he could be. In my mind, I was wondering how someone so confident was once in a similar position as I was then. And yet, when I asked him how he overcame his insecurities, he told me that if he reduced himself to his insecurities, why should he expect others to do differently?
A month goes by, and Gurp invites me to his house to have dinner with his family. A previous version of me would have been too timid to accept, but I take a step outside my shell and show up. If I ever thought Gurp was upbeat and self-assured, his family -his mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandfather, and seven cousins - was even more so. The festive night began with warm introductions to the family and to motif that was so important to them all: music. Gurp was not the only singer in his family, and voice was not the only instrument in the Singh household. I was treated to a postprandial performance headed by Gurp’s father, uncles, and grandfather; and though I was not familiar with this genre of music, it did not matter. The music that evening needed no label or singular demographic to appeal to. It was string and song – music in its passionate, unadulterated form. It was in this music that I did not have to hide myself, but instead shout it out to the world. The next day at school, hearing Gurp singing in the halls had far greater meaning to me now, and that was only the start of what I was beginning to see.
Now it is the winter of my senior year, and Gurp invites me to a concert his father and uncles are holding in the community. I was more than happy to attend, but I was worried about what other people, especially those unaccustomed to the style of music I had grown to appreciate, would think. Upon my arrival, things don’t seem to mesh on the surface: we are in a church with four Sikh musicians holding a concert for a chattering melting pot of elderly, middle-aged, and young spectators. I grow nervous that the night’s music won’t resonate with the audience across their divisions in gender, status, or race. But Ravinder hushes the crowd with a simple beat on tabla, Mohinder plays chords with a sitar, and Davinder delicately adds in a harmonium as he begins sharing with the crowd the history and universality of their music and all music. And as Davinder begins to sing, all pretenses of division disappear; there was no longer any different race, religion, or gender in this room. Within these walls with so many seemingly different people, all that truly exists was harmony through music. And here, the music could on forever. In one moment, Gurp is called from the audience to join the brothers in front. He looks out at an audience awaiting him, and he begins to sing. He shines as he wins the audience with his song. I take everything in, and I could not comprehend how he or I or anybody could withhold their true selves from the world. I see how far I've come trusting in his wisdom he shared when we met. His music brought out the best in himself, in me, and in everyone around him.What could I learn from this? I realized that many of us have insecurities. It is best to talk about them with someone and take positive, definitive steps to not let them define you. I knew I had to move past my introversion by putting my personality out in front of my being shy. This was not easy, but each day I resolved to express myself. I joined more clubs. I reached out. I had been in a musical and won a vaudeville competition with Gurp. And by graduation, I was feeling good about myself and who I was. Changing high schools ended up being a saving grace. I learned that acceptance starts from harmony within. It isn’t easy, but it helps to have a good friend by your side.