Thursday, April 23, 2009

With a voice as soft as thunder

Most mornings begin the same way. Rush around over a cup of coffee. Pass the same houses on the same streets wishing and hoping that one day the street scape will change from small town-ness to skyscrapers. Step through the same doors and sit down to a big blank screen.

Then starts the uphill climb. Most days, sitting down to write is like a swim against the current. The current hitting with wave after wave of self doubt and insecurity and 'will this sound good enough,' 'is this written well enough,' those thoughts mixed with 'will I end up anywhere other than here.'

Those are the thoughts that wrap themselves around our weaker places like vicious vines that grow alongside a beautiful old house until they practically cover it all up. And then...Wednesday I caught a teaser on the 'Today' show about a woman who auditioned on Britain's Got Talent.

Later, I jumped on You Tube to see for myself the emergence of Susan Boyle. The “nearly 48” year old woman who had “never been married” and “never been kissed”, was displayed at first against dippy music, presenting her as a joke. As she stepped out onto the stage, the audience laughed. The judges rolled their eyes at responses that have been described as “inarticulate.” Someone in the audience gave a sarcastic whistle at her and the camera caught audience member after audience member laughing and rolling their eyes as she told judges Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell that she wanted to be a professional singer along the lines of British legend, Elaine Paige.

Then, the music started. And Boyle began to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” of the musical Les Miserables.

“I dreamed a dream of time gone by,” Boyle sang with a voice that simply can not be described in one word. It was beautiful, it was delightful, it was amazing. In just that first line, the audience that had been so merciless to Boyle just moments before, were on their feet, in tears and screaming for this woman from a small village in Scotland who has been described as shy and kind – who lives in a government subsidized home with her cat, 'Pebbles,' the youngest of nine children who had been caring for her ailing mother until she died two years ago.

Until her appearance on Britain's Got Talent, Boyle, who had been singing since she was 12, had only sung in and around her village, mostly in church. Which seemed fitting. Sometimes I think God likes to keep the most talented in the unlikeliest and hard to find places, almost as his own rare treasure – so valuable that they have to be sought out.

We live in a society in which we literally build stages on which to mock people. Sometimes I think the best talents, the most beautiful voices, the best painters, sculptors and artists are kept under wraps – until God knows that the world will give them their due.

Boyle's performance on the talent show continues to bring me to tears, even after having watched the clip countless times since.

Over 600 articles had been written about her as of yesterday afternoon. And the number of viewers of her performance on You Tube jumped from nearly six million yesterday afternoon to 11 million this morning.

Several of them take a look at Boyle's looks. They refer to her as “dowdy” or “frumpy.” And they echo judge Holden's remarks that the entire audience was against her when she walked out onto the stage, entirely cynical – and that it was a privilege to hear her.

“Everyone was laughing at you,” Morgan said, when Boyle had finished singing. “Nobody is laughing at you now.” What is most endearing about Boyle is not only her voice. Or the song she chose to sing.

“I dreamed a dream of time gone by/When hope was high/And life worth living/I dreamed that love would never die/I dreamed that God would be forgiving/Then I was young and unafraid/And dreams were made and used and wasted/There was no ransom to be paid/No song unsung/No wine untasted...”

No, the most endearing thing about Boyle was that following her performance, she began to march off stage without so much as a critique – as if she figured the judges would have tossed her off anyway. She was generally surprised when each judge praised her more than any previous contestant and passed her through to the next round. Her eyes went wide, her face flushed and she pumped her fist in the air and stomped her feet. And one got the sense that it is not just talent but purity that runs through the “nearly 48” year old woman from Scotland.

And when Cowell said, “Susan, you are a little tiger aren't you?” Boyle paused. Blushed and said hesitantly, “I don't know about I don't know about that.”

Ms. Boyle, while the world will look at the bigger picture, the way an entire crowd misjudged you based solely on your appearance and while others will look at your talent, I would like to commend you on your bravery and say that you sang to millions of people who still sit at home with their dreams tucked away and tied down by their own self doubt, their own insecurities and their fear that the world might judge them.

You sang to a little girl who grew up loving to read, with unruly hair and a still compromised fashion sense who was teased from childhood to adolescence and sometimes even adulthood for being a little awkward at times and who often fears stepping out of her own village. And probably to countless dreamy children who continue to live in all of us.

And when you sang the lines, “But there are dreams that cannot be/And there are storms we can not weather/I had a dream my life would be/so different from this hell I'm living...” I lost my breath.

And I think everyone else did too.

In an interview, Boyle said she auditioned for the talent show for her late mother, who wanted her to do something with her life. I think there is no question on how proud her mother would be now.

And in that interview Ms. Boyle commented on the subject of the angle that so many are taking about the “frumpy” woman with the angelic voice.

“Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances,” she said. “There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson or set an example.” On the contrary, Ms. Boyle. I think it would be an honor just to be able to shake your hand and compliment your voice. And I think you just might be one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

And this morning, I hummed your song on the way to work and dreamed a dream of time gone by. And I think I speak for millions when I say that, when times are really tough, you will lift us all as high as your voice carries.

The truth is – I would never be able to describe it well enough. So I encourage everyone to go to You Tube and search for Susan Boyle. It'll make your day. And it will remind you about what it means to dream. And that dreaming is just the beginning. Living is in the dreaming and the doing.

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