When 47-year-old Susan Boyle first strutted on to the Britain’s Got Talent stage, one hand on her hip and the other clutching in the microphone, she was greeted by an incredulous panel of judges and an intolerant audience. She fumbled awkwardly through the small talk with the judges and joked about her age, which elicited a wide-eyed “what have we gotten ourselves into?” glance amongst the panel. When Ms. Boyle admitted that she dreamed of one day being as famous as Elaine Paige, audience members groaned and snickered and rolled their eyes at this frumpy, unemployed spinster standing center stage in her matronly dress and matching shoes. Simon Cowell (known here in the United States as the Patron Saint of Sarcastic Criticism on American Idol) stretched his face into a tolerant smile, folded his hands, and waited for the impending disaster.
I felt a pang of fury watching the icy reception, and I was overwhelmed by compassion for this poor woman who was about to put her heart and soul on the line in front of millions of viewers, only to be publicly ridiculed, first by Simon and the other judges, and then by the malicious media. When Ms. Boyle smiled cheerfully and gave the thumbs up to cue the music, my heart stopped for a moment in my chest.
Beautiful music has always affected me profoundly, resonating somewhere deep inside, as if somehow directly connected to my soul. There have been numerous occasions throughout my life when I have been so captivated by a piece of music that I have had only what I can describe as an out of body experience, floating somewhere above my body, enraptured by the natural progression of the notes and the enchanting lilt of the vocals. There have been moments when I am absolutely certain that I have gotten a glimpse of Heaven right here on earth—playing in high school concerts in front of my hometown audience, standing next to Katie Luekens singing hymns during chapel services at Concordia College, sitting in the darkness of the Broadway theaters and concert halls. Whenever, wherever I happen to be, I get lost in the music.
“I Dreamed a Dream” has always been one of my favorite songs from Les Miserables, yet all of the other performances I have ever seen appear amateurish and pale in comparison. A choir of angels could not have sung with more passionate intensity or with greater joy than Susan Boyle. My heart ached as I watched the audience members’ skeptical frowns melt into rapturous awe.
From the time we were young, we are told to never judge a book by its cover, yet we do time and time and time again. We are living today in such an egocentric culture that it is difficult for many of us to even bring the world around us into focus. It’s all about me, me, me, what I think, what I want, what I like or dislike. There are so few genuinely pure and humble souls left that when we do encounter them—souls like Susan Boyle—it is hard not to sit up and listen.
Humans are amazingly complex creatures, capable of extraordinary kindness and compassion, or devastating ugliness and brutality. Sadly, in today’s world, we have all been subjected to more than our fair share of evil and greed. Even those of us with the best of intentions are finding it difficult to let our lights shine in the midst of so much darkness. I am a believer though, that energy is contagious. So it is no surprise to me that Susan Boyle has become such a sensation, that she has had several million hits on websites like YouTube, that her story and her video is spreading across the globe. In the darkness, even the tiniest pinpoint of light is enough to draw us in, to make us anticipate the dawn. In today’s world, where there is so much misery and despair, one short glimpse of a pure and beautiful soul—like Susan Boyle—just might be enough to restore our appreciation of, and our faith in, each other.
And if you’d like another uplifting story and musical performance, check out Paul Potts, who also shocked the Britain’s Got Talent judges and audience. If you ever had any doubt that there were angels among us…