Monday, 2 February 2009

home of the brave

I missed the opening of the Super Bowl last night.  I was on a bus, then walking back in high-heeled smooth-bottomed boots I wouldn't have worn had I known it was going to snow like that.  The snow was beautiful, joyous, and its special gift:  quiet.  I knew enough to stay away from places it looked like it had melted -- that's a sure sign of an insidious ice patch.   I walked slowly and deliberately thinking I wasn't missing anything important and I didn't want to end up splayed on the ground.

The Super Bowl was unexpectedly entertaining -- an interception with a 100-yard run followed by a touchdown? -- a breakaway touchdown by Fitzgerald putting the Cardinals in the lead with 2+minutes to go?  -- a maybe-yes/maybe-no touchdown that would decide the game for the Steelers?  No - I hadn't seen a Super Bowl like this.  Pretty entertaining.  Plus we had pizza.  Not an easy accomplishment here in snowy London.  And by pizza I mean Pizza.  Mmm...

Springsteen was a 12-minute bucket of fun.  Before the half, the Brit commentators were speculating  on what he might play.  I thought, "No, no, no -- you're all wrong -- 10th Avenue Freeze Out -- what else would  he come out with?"  Of course, I neglected to say that out loud, thus losing out on bragging rights later.  But when the opening riffs came, it seemed like exactly the only choice to rock millions of people around the world simultaneously.  He knew where he was and what he had to do.  Like it or not, the Super Bowl Half-Time Show is the biggest audience you are ever going to get at one time -- unless you are getting sworn in for the U.S. Presidency.

The set was far too short and they looked like they were having so much fun, it seemed pointless to me to continue the game -- let the E Street Band play! Besides the music, and the power of it, you can see how much they enjoy what they are doing.  It's a good lesson in performance -- have fun.  Bring your A game -- even when that means you have to sing a song you wrote over 30 years ago with the same conviction you had when you wrote it.  Don't make it look like work.  Go on ahead and make it seem fun and easy.  Because all the people in front of you, they want to be entertained.  They want a break from their every day.  So give it to them:  they pay your bills.

The second half proved more interesting than expected, and mercilessly, ended before 3am here.  It was a good end to a fine day in sports with a great Aussie Open final starting the day.

In between, I got to go out and do my own 12-minutes, in a loud pub, with people not at all sure they wanted to listen.  I usually ignore that, but it was kind of a tough room.  Still, you never know.  Afterward, people came up and seemed to have really identified and enjoyed what I was doing.  One group pulled me in to sit with them, share wine, and talk.  A woman repeatedly called me brave, telling me she could not do what I did.

I find it uncomfortable being called brave.  And more and more in these latest months, people have called me that.  I think they don't really know.  I think, perhaps, they are being polite and what they want to say is "crazy."  I think circumstances create bravery, but more often create its opposite:  cowardice.  I think they don't see those moments.

After the Super Bowl, I remembered I had missed something -- Jennifer Hudson.  I went on YouTube to find a clip.  

At the best of times, the Star-Spangled Banner is a b***h to sing.  To sing it well, almost impossible.  To make it your own, spectacular.  To do all this in front of millions, months after a family tragedy the proportions of which almost none of us will ever experience? Heroic.

Immediately clear is that this is not the Jennifer Hudson who had entertainment mags following her on her shopping trips for Oscar dresses.  She is dressed, sure, but she is not styled or outfitted.  She is there.

If you look at her face in the moments before the she begins to sing, I think you can see her wondering just what exactly she is doing there.  She looks a bit sad, not scared -- in fact, does not seem daunted by the crowd at all.  She is in her own world.  

As the music starts and her voice begins its work, she is strong and assured like no other singer I've heard doing the National Anthem.  Then, something takes over.  "And the rockets red glare" a vocal leap that is dangerous, suddenly brings out her gift, her talent, the ability to soar on notes to feel music underneath her like currents of air; she is singing.  She is not Jennifer Hudson, she is Jennifer Hudson's gift.  She is singing in spite of, because of, in honour of her loss.  She is doing what she is born to do.  She seems so fully present, so blissfully unaware of the audience at the same time she is fully serving them.  And the singing -- I have never heard that song a song.  Not like some torturous vocal exercise or something we all have to get through, hands on hearts.  A song you might listen to by choice, because it's beautiful, and possibly, because after everything she's been through -- we've been through -- it means something.

As she finishes, even she seems a bit surprised.  She didn't just sing; what she did was transcend -- circumstances, song, identity, situation -- to create something new and, yes, inspiring.  After all, what is bravery but transcending circumstance, situation, and identity, momentarily to achieve something you heretofore thought impossible?  What did the Steelers' quarterback Roethlisberger say after the Super Bowl?  That now he knew anything was possible.  

As I watched, I thought of my friend Sean, who is a big Jennifer Hudson fan.  I hoped he'd had the opportunity to see it.  Two years from this month, he is going to need exactly what Jennifer Hudson brought with her -- the ability to transcend.

I wish the clip I saw stayed on her a bit longer.  I've watched it over and over.  I admit it.  And each time she ends with "the home of the brave" I think - and that is you, girl.  For getting up here and doing what you do in spite of everything that's been done or happened to you.  

Each time what I come away with is a lesson.  She is brave.  And she is smart.  She has transcended yet another bad, and possibly the worst, circumstance she will face.  She has kept her faith and her power and her energy posited firmly in her gift, ignored the haters, followed it where it has taken her, trusted that it will lead her where she needs to be, and never insulted it by not sharing it with others.

We all know the stories of what comes from not honouring our gifts fully, or from perverting them, or fighting them.  Gifts and talents don't lead to joy unless you follow them there with firm commitment.  They can lead to dead in a hotel room at 27, gunshot wound, choking on your own vomit, speedballing your way to history; we know those stories.  

Springsteen, Fitzgerald, Federer, Nadal, Hudson were all out there yesterday giving free lessons, putting it all on the line and I have taken notes -- this is the excellence and the shared exuberance and experience that comes of fully embodying your gift.  Living in it, enjoying it, and making it available to others.

There are those times in life that you are offered a choice -- to fight in futility, to cave in and ignore your strengths, or to continue boldly --  even, bravely.  There are times in life when you can't accomplish anything by fighting back.  You need to learn how to fight forward.

No comments: