Friday, July 27, 2007

The Power of Dreams

Up until about a year ago, when people mentioned the Food Network or Fox News, I could only nod in vague understanding because, up until about a year ago, my television viewing, which could be called minimal at best, was limited to one really clear channel, two sporadically clear channels and two more on-a-cloudless-night-after-nine-o’clock-maybe channels. I was restricted to viewing what is known as network television by a tall tower of aluminum stuck into the ground just outside the dining room window and connected to the television by a long spool of coaxial cable that my poor daddy, on his back and in the dark, had had to snake through the crawl space under the house.

Things changed when, as a part of the renovations on Sandhill, the antenna was unbolted from its brace at the roof line so that the new siding could be put up. That very afternoon a stiff spring wind came up and knocked the antenna to the ground and that night, after a long day of being beaten up by the system I am sworn to support and defend, when all I wanted to do was stretch out on the couch and be mindlessly entertained, my five channels had been reduced to one.

And on that one channel that night was the season premiere of American Idol. I’d never seen it, but after the first hour of what was a two-hour show I was convinced that American culture was in quite a bit more danger than I had previously known.

All that to say that when my boss forwarded to me an e-mail containing a video clip from YouTube (another cultural phenomenon to which I have only recently been introduced) regarding the British equivalent of (and predecessor to) American Idol, I was prepared to be amazed all over again at just how far people will go to get attention.

I was amazed. But not in the way I had anticipated. I was amazed in the way that causes the hairs to stand up on your arms, the way that brings tears to your eyes, the way that reminds you that there is a seed of nobility in every human heart.

The clip was of a man named Paul Potts. He showed up at his audition and told the judges he would be singing opera. There were patronizing smiles and a slight raising of the eyebrows. And then he began to sing.

In a voice so clear and so true and so honest that it made absolutely no difference that he sang in a language most of the audience could not understand, the 36-year-old car phone salesman from Wales brought down the house.

Subsequent clips showed him moving through the competition, each night filling the auditorium with passion and humility and each night rousing the listeners to their feet to applaud as they tried to wipe their eyes. In an interview, Potts said, "My voice has always been my best friend. If I was having problems with bullies at school I always had my voice to fall back on." Confessing that self-confidence had always been "a difficult thing" for him, Potts said, "When I’m singing I don’t have that problem. I’m in the place where I should be."

Ah, yes, Paul Potts understands. He knows that we all need some place within ourselves that we can go to get away from the bullies.

The story has a happy ending: Paul Potts wins the competition, signs a record contract with Sony and sings for the queen. Not bad for a man who first sang opera at the age of 28 for a karaoke contest.

I’ve watched that YouTube clip about four times now. And I’ll watch it again. I’ll watch it every time I need to be awakened from the lethargy of mediocrity, every time I need to be jolted into the action of soulful living, every time I need to be reminded of the power of dreams.

Copyright 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Continuing Education

Sometime around the first of the year, I found out about a book titled The Intellectual Devotional. The title alone was reason enough to buy it.

The introduction describes the volume as “one year’s worth of daily readings that will refresh your spirit, stimulate your mind, and help compete your education.” Who wouldn’t want that?

I’ve learned a lot of interesting things in the past six months. For example, one Thursday (science day), I learned about nociception which is the perception of pain. The anterior cingulatecortex is the part of the brain responsible for that and, interestingly enough, it does notdistinguish between physical and emotional pain. As the authors put it, “It responds equally to a broken arm and to a broken heart.” Imagine.

I tend to see things metaphorically so one Friday (music day) as I read about harmony, I couldn’t help reading an important life lesson into the comment that “[w]ithout the instability of temporary dissonance, tonal music would be boring; without the stability of consonance, it would be unsatisfying.” In the back of my mind I kept hearing a wise teacher telling me that without the hard times, the good times couldn’t be appreciated and without the good times the hard times couldn’t be borne.

You can see, then, why I’m always eager for each morning’s dip and why there are
underlinings and scribbled notes all over the pages. Each day there is something that makes me think and, in a world where there is less and less of that going on, I’m grateful for the challenge.

Which brings me to today’s reading. I’m writing this on Thursday which (as noted
above) is science day and the topic is reproduction. The reading begins, “In the plant and animal kingdom, there are two main ways to reproduce: asexually and sexually.” Yeh, yeh, tenth grade biology stuff. Not going to be all that enlightening.

Or so I thought.

Second paragraph: “Budding is a common form of asexual reproduction found in
strawberries, aspen trees, and coral. In budding, the offspring grows from a part of the parent. Sometimes they break apart, but other times they remain connected for life” and, as a result, have “a more difficult time evolving to changes in the environment.”

As I read it, I could hear my brain adding the phrase, “like some people I know.”
What? From where did that idea spring forth?

My Adam graduated college in May. Light of my life from the day he was born, fearless
and opinionated, great joy and irritant simultaneously, he is now out there. He has a job and a life and he doesn’t call me three times a day anymore for phone numbers or favors or advice.

We still call him, occasionally, by one of his childhood nicknames – Bud –, but the truth is that Adam is not a bud. He is a separate unique organism. He carries a little of each of us, but the combination is his alone. And that combination, I have to believe, will be enough to get him through the inevitable “changes in the environment” – the stresses, the losses, the frustrations.

Believing that does not, of course, eliminate the instinctual desire to shield him from those things (a desire that has a lot to do with nociception and the anterior cingulate cortex perception of broken arms and broken hearts). The truth is that I’d just as soon save the people I love from affliction of any kind.

But I would be wrong to do that. Wrong to deprive anyone who means anything to me of
the flaming hot, ice cold, blood boiling, bone chilling experience of real pain. It comes to us all and, without it, we would never know how strong we are.

It’s a lesson I learned not from The Intellectual Devotional but from living, not from a book but from birthdays. And that single lesson – that each of us can be strong enough to handle whatever comes her way – may very well be the sum total of all the other lessons combined.

Copyright 2007