“Who do you want to win, Johnny? Justin or Kelly?” My husband of three years had just run across the road from our home in Larchmont, New York to get me a chocolate-peanut butter ice cream cone from Baskin Robbins. Although he didn’t respond, his expression revealed a mixture of smirk, annoyance, and disinterest. “I dunno, Meg. You’re the one fascinated with this show.”
And indeed I was.
As a woman who had spent years studying voice and performing in local musicals and camps, I was enthralled from the first episode of American Idol. Admittedly, I had been hoping Kelly Clarkson would win, believing her talent could transcend a one-off television show no one had ever heard of. But beyond Kelly’s musical prowess, sitting back on our couch feeling Ethan kick my insides, I couldn’t help but think back to the time when I was a little girl. Whenever I had been asked what I wanted to be, my answer had been instantaneous. “A famous singer!” I would proudly respond. In fact, since the moment I could carry my first note, my father would devote hours each week to accompanying his only daughter on the piano. Those moments with him were precious and anytime I was up for sing a song of my choice, he was equally prepared to play along and sing with me.
As Kelly proceeded to sing, I was sure there were countless other viewers wishing they were in her shoes, too. They might have a bit of talent and even a shot at show business. I dreamed like them, but I did so with the certainty that such a life was out of reach for me.
After all, I was different.
This past week John and I took a rare trip together sans children to celebrate his birthday in Las Vegas. Since I don’t gamble, my particular excitement centered on the good restaurants where I had been longing to eat, seeing a show I had been longing to see, and of course wearing a few new outfits I had been longing to wear. We topped it off with a decadent last day of massages and just hanging out at the spa at our hotel.
Within moments of arriving, I told the massage therapist that my feet were too ticklish, so she needn’t bother massaging them. In truth, it has taken me years to flaunt my feet in public and I am therefore quite pleased with myself that I no longer wear socks during the treatment. However, having someone actually rub my feet is a whole different level of self-confidence that I simply hadn’t reached. Happily like with all other masseuses, she acquiesced and, if I’m being honest with myself, I think she was just as relieved to not have to entertain massaging my odd-shaped one-toed feet.
Next it was time for my facial and it didn’t occur to me that I’d have to make my usual “ticklish feet” announcement. The treatment began, I relaxed, stretched my body inside the heated blanket and, around twenty minutes in, the esthetician named Hope pulled up the sheets and began to massage my left foot. Startled, I quickly withdrew, providing my typical excuse and expecting her to back-off…..except she didn’t. Rather, Hope responded forcefully. “Awww, c’mon. You’ll love this. I promise to not make it feel ticklish.” And with that I braced myself, clearly visibly tense enough that she asked me to loosen my shoulders. And with that, I followed my gut instead of my head, and allowed Hope to massage each foot.
I was stunned. By letting go of my fears, I felt utterly relaxed—probably more so than I had ever recalled feeling. Later, while Hope applied a hydrating mask to my face, I decided to tell her about Don’t Hide It Flaunt It. Immediately, she connected with its message and began describing growing up half white and half black—and how she had been mocked and ostracized because of it.
Next stop on the spa train was getting my hair blown out by a beautiful stylist. She was so pretty to me…the sight of physical perfection. As we were chatting, she told me how as a child she was bullied for having a pronounced dimple on her chin. All of a sudden, Hope came down from the spa to hand me a sheet of paper and give me a big hug. It read:
Our deepest fear
Is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear
Is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness,
That most frightens us.
“Who am I to be brilliant?”
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of G-d.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened
About shrinking so that other people
Won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of G-d that is within us.
It is not just in some of us:
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fears. Our presence automatically liberates others.
–Neslon Mandela 1994 Inaugural Speech
This week I can’t but help be reminded that although I may look drastically different than the majority, in actuality we all feel different, in our own way. That knowledge actually helps me to push myself to a higher level, to continue to face and even overcome my fears of inadequacy, and to join others feeling newly liberated to try anything I think might be worth my while.
Even in its final season, I’ve continued to be a fan of American Idol. Ironically, a few weeks ago, the show profiled the Top 5 contestants by asking each one what made them different. La Porsha Renae experienced domestic abuse. Dalton Rappatoni is bi-polar. Sonkia Vaid was extremely shy. Mackenzie Bourg almost died from a congenital
heart defect. Trent Harmon, who ended up winning the final season this past week, described how the death (suicide) of a close friend suffering from depression that encouraged his musicianship changed him to such an extent, he was never the same. Trent’s experience reminded me that sometimes difference touches us indirectly too.
And even Kelly, returning to the prior week to the stage where she started, sang an emotional song, “Piece by Piece” about her own difference…growing up without a father… who had left her and her Mom while Kelly was still a baby. As Kelly tearfully sang her new tune, I realized something else. That I may walk this earth looking like I am lacking, but reflecting on those days singing at the piano with my father, it also pays to be grateful for what I’ve actually been given.
I suppose one of the judges, Keith Urban, put it best when advising the contestants that same night, “The key to success is using your life experience to draw people into you….learn to connect with the audience about what makes you, you…that is your power beyond measure.”