Monday, April 20, 2009

A Lesson from Susan Boyle

Unless you've been under a rock for the past week, I'm sure you've heard of or seen the new British "sensation," Susan Boyle. Susan is a 47 year old, unemployed, never been married (or kissed) English woman, who many would describe as "frumpy." She was recently seen on Britain's Got Talent, where she gave audience members, judges, and now 34 million and counting YouTube viewers the shock of their lives. (If you have not seen the video, go YouTube it now... trust me, you won't regret it.)

Susan sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis. And as I watched this video for the first time last week (I have since watched it several more times), I was brought to tears, just like millions of people before me. But was it just the "surprise" of the angelic, pure voice coming from this sweet, unassuming woman that did it? No, I knew it was more than that. It was the music. It was her PERFECT choice of song selection, matched with her honest character (which shone so clearly through her disheveled hair, bushy eyebrows, snug-fitting frock, dark stockings and beige heels).
"I Dreamed a Dream." And she did. She dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hopes were high, and life worth living. That is evident. Before beginning her performance, Susan told the judges she aspired to be like Elaine Page. Her dream. But was it too late? In that moment on stage, she became Fantine: the aged-beyond-her-years single mother, struggling to find security in life and in love. Struggling to achieve her dreams, for herself and for her daughter. And finally succumbing to the fact that her dream has been killed... by life.

Les Mis has been my favorite musical since it was first performed on Broadway in the late 1980s. No, I did not see it at that age, I saw it for the first time performed by a traveling cast at West Point's Theatre when I was 8 years old. But my oldest sister saw it on Broadway when it opened- and as a junior in HS, she was so moved by the story, music, characters, and lyrics, she came home and gave anyone who would listen a play-by-play, equipped with the soundtrack and a large picture book. And I listened. I was enamored with Les Mis from the first note, from the first word my sister told me about it.

As a 6 year old, I was mesmerized with the character of Young Cosette. She was the one I could relate to. No, I wasn't an orphaned French girl, put to work by her foster "parents" like Cinderella... but I was a young girl, and a dreamer like Cosette. When my mother (who also fell in love with the soundtrack my sister brought home with her) would play the CD, I would sneak downstairs and act out the scene to "Castle on a Cloud."

When I entered junior high school, suddenly I was drawn to a different character. Still a dreamer at heart, I could "relate" to Cosette as she, too, aged in the musical... however, my dreams were now much more focused on love. Crushes on boys, that never turned into anything more. Helpless romantic that I was, I would dream that my crush of the moment would one day turn to me and say I was the one... but, like another character in Les Mis, I quickly discovered I was on my own. I was Eponine. And like Eponine, I continued to watch as the boys I so desperately sought to attract would date other girls... and ignore me. By this time, I had my own CD of Les Mis, so I would blare it in my bedroom, and act out the scenes to "On My Own," "A Heart Full of Love," and "A Little Fall of Rain."

And now a new shift in characters has seemingly taken place. I no longer feel the pain of Eponine (thank GOD... teenage angst really does suck)! But as I watched Susan Boyle sing the words of Fantine, and emote them so poignantly, I realized right away why the tears were streaming down my face. I am now the dreamer in Fantine.

In my (not-so-distant) youth, it seemed nothing could go wrong. I had found the man of my dreams, and married him. I had big dreams for our life, for our future together. No song was unsung, no wine was untasted, as we embarked on our journey together 3 years ago.
But as my life has gone on, it has become increasingly more clear that "there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather."

"I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living, so different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream I dreamed."

And with those final words of Fantine's song, there is a resolution. A resolution to the fact that the life of "dreaming" has come to an end. No more little girl fantasies of beautiful ladies in castles in the sky. No more teenage dreams of a love that fills you to the very core and satisfies your every need. And no more dreams of a young adult, hoping to turn back the clocks and live once again in blissful ignorance of what was to come of her life.

But it was more than my connection to Fantine in Susan Boyle's performance that moved me. At the moment Susan sang those final words of resolution- - when she, herself, was feeling the resolution of "this is my final dream of singing, and then I must accept my life as it is- not the dream I had dreamed, but the hell it has become," there was a most incredible paradox happening. The audience was on its feet. The cheers were so loud one could hardly hear the final notes Susan sang. The judges had tears in their eyes and bottom jaws were dropped. This was not in alignment with the "resolution" and closing of "I Dreamed a Dream." Instead, Susan was receiving validation, justification, that her dream has NOT been killed. Her dream MUST go on.

And in that moment, I not only connected to Fantine, but I connected to Susan. How must she have felt to see all of those people giving her a standing ovation? How did she feel to triumphantly march off the stage as the applause rumbled on behind her (and the judges had to yell out to bring her back for their comments!)? She must have felt pretty damn good.

Sometimes all we need is a cheering section to let us know our dreams ARE attainable. You, my friends, have been my cheering section. Every time I feel like resigning, and singing the final bar of my "dream" song, your applause keeps me going. And I don't know just how to repay you for that gift, except to cheer right back for you, and others who dream our dream.

This is the lesson I've learned from Susan Boyle.


Karey said...

That is so funny because that song has been in my head lately so the other day I'm belting it out while cleaning and suddenly I'm like, woah..that totally relates to my infertility struggle! Especially that part you mentioned.. "I dreamed a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living..." (which has always been my favorite part anyway). I had never looked at that song from that perspective before, which now makes it even more moving.

Oh, and I, too, have acted out 'On My Own' many a time, trench coat and all. It was one of my specialties as a teenager!

Sew said...

This is your best post to date! Seriously it couldn't have been more beautifully orchestrated!

And in someway we IF's all resemble Susan Boyle. Our womb empty, the world telling us to give up, motherhood is overrated. But yet we hold our dream until the day it comes. I do hope we have the last laugh as Susan Boyle has....

Totally with you on Les Mis! I saw it at a young age too and would act it out as well! I love it! The many times I have seen it, I have never tired of it!

Great post cheeky monkey! ;)

Praying for Hope said...

I've wathed her on YouTube several times. I don't do it often, because it makes me cry. I love happy endings. I love that she floored everyone with her voice, but I think it's a tragedy that they bagan by jeering and scoffing at her. She's a person with feelings, for Heaven's sake! Treat her as you'd want to be treated! But she wowed them in the end. She lives the song, but I sincerely hope her dream wins out over life.

Reproductively Challenged said...

Your post brought tears to MY eyes. That was SO beautifully written. I think often about how differently my life has turned out from what I had dreamed of...our dreams of motherhood will come are right that we should all learn something from Susan, thank you for your inspiring post.

tiffany said...

What a beautiful post - and one that I desperately needed today. Literally 10 minutes ago, as I started to feel the pains of AF and realized it will likely be here in the next day or two, I just gave up. I decided I can't do this. And I needed comfort, so I turned to my favorite blogs. Today, your post was my reminder that my dream is attainable. Thank you.

Fertile Thoughts said...

GREAT POST! It is amazing how many of us IF woman were struck by the lyrics of that song, not to mention Susan's breath taking voice. I too have been singing this song all week because of the lyrics although my lyrics get a bit jumble up I always remember "the hell I living" part. Weird huh. Anyways, great comparison between this song, Susan and IF!!! Very moving :)
P.s. While you were pretending to be Cosette in your younger years I was pretending to be Christine from Phantom of the Opera. My sister and I always had to do performances for family guests. HAHA. Very embarassing :) Go Les Mis.

Fight The Good Fight of Faith said...

Beautiful post!!! I'll always be here cheering for you because you will attain your dreams and more!!
I loved this musical it was my favorite and left quite the impression on me as a young child. I almost cried listening to susan boyle. I was wondering what the fuss was about but now i understand why she was on larry king!

AWESOME thanks for sharing. Your sharing totally inspires me. Thanks

the misfit said...

I always loved that song too (my choir sang it in eighth grade. I can't sing, but I sang it anyway)...and I thought it was so appropriate for her. I rebelled at "hell I'm living" - my life is not so terrible and neither is hers - but she SHOWED them. That felt good, even though I was just watching. And I think your parallel makes so much sense.

Life In Mazes said...

This is such a wonderful post. I had the same reaction to Susan's performance. Although, I have no history of having this musical in my life, her determinate, her vulnerablity, her smile, her faith in her ability, her honesty - all of it touched me to the core and I cried when I saw that she was being affirmed and loved for the giftedness that God gave her and that she willingly shared with the world. She kept her voice well, maybe never knowing sure that she would have this kind of opportunity and we strive to keep our wombs open to life never knowing just when the author of life will knit NEW life there!
By the way, so glad to be a part of your cheering squard! I am so thankful to have you in mine!

Jeremiah 29:11 said...

Love your post! I am a huge Les Mis fan too (how can you not be???) My favorite line written so beautifully by Hugo is "To love another person is to see the face of God." So true! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

E said...

I will be cheering you on (a standing O!) until you have a baby in your arms. :)

LifeHopes said...

What a beautiful post!

I felt exactly the same way you did when I heard the song. It took my breath away and something about her voice just resonated with me ... the song is so soothing to my soul! I would buy her CD if she had one!!!

It's interesting you bring up the point about infertility. I had those same thoughts when I heard the song in light of our cross... of dreams gone by ... it made me cry, really. It is a song of sadness, but also of triumph, somehow.

I pray we all realize our dreams, or at least triumph.

Anonymous said...

I'm just seeing this post (from the Creme de la Creme), but I LOVE Les Mis! My sister used to play the music on the piano while we sang along at the top of our lungs. I always got a little teary-eyed at some of the songs.

I love what you've written here - the parallels b/w the characters and your life and struggle with IF. Beautiful post!

NotTheMama said...

Here from Creme...
This post was exactly what I needed tonight! We found out this week that we would need 45K to adopt a little boy from Russia as soon as we could get paperwork done. Feeling a little disheartened and wondering how in the world we'll ever be able to do this (could be the PMS and sleep deprivation talking, too)... I saw Les Mis on Broadway when I was in 8th or 9th grade and fell in love! I wanted to take little Cosette home with me. Thanks for the reminder that my dream is not dead, and that one day we WILL adopt!

Lauren @ Magnify the Lord with Me said...

What a beautiful post! And how fun to be selected for creme de la creme! Congrats! I was stunned as I followed the link from your blog to the creme de la creme sight and kept scrolling, scroling, scrolling down the long list of families blogging about this subject. I thought I'd hit the jackpot when I discovered you Catholic IF girls!! (And indeed, I had!)

Thanks for sharing these beautiful thoughts. Les Mis is also my favorite, and I'd never thought about how these songs relate to my life at this time.

I look forward to following yoru blog and reading more of your beautiful thoughts!