Doubtless there will be some readers who will find this an inappropriate topic for the blog of a Catholic magazine. And who will no doubt roll their eyes. It is hardly a recondite topic. But I have to ask: Have you seen the video of the woman called Susan Boyle singing on the American Idolish show called "Britain’s Got Talent?"
It may be the best example of the how God sees us--and the way that the world often doesn’t.
Ms. Boyle, a matronly 48-year-old unemployed woman, who touchingly described herself on camera as "never been married, never been kissed," lives in a small Scottish village in the flat where she was raised, with her cat, Pebbles. A devout Catholic, she had spent the last several years caring for her ailing mother, who recently died at age 91. When she strode onto the stage of "Britain’s Got Talent," you could see the contemptuous grimaces in the crowd. And when the heavyset woman smilingly announced that she would sing the vocally challenging song from "Les Miserables" called "I Dreamed a Dream," you could see the collective judges (including the ever-present Simon Cowell) literally roll their eyes in barely disguised disgust. Please.
When Ms. Boyle opened her mouth, however, out came a voice that silenced her critics. Watch her video (which is unembeddable) here if you haven’t already.
Her Youtube video at last count has received, all tolled in its many incarnations, tens of millions of hits. Why? A few reasons, some obvious, one not. First, there is the shock factor: what a surprise that this unknown woman can sing so well! Where has she been all these years? Second, the sympathy factor: we feel compassion for a somewhat plain woman who seems to have been so unlucky in life. Third, the physical appearance factor: "American Idol" stardom, or even success, is typcically the province of the PYTs, pretty young things. Not of people like Susan Boyle. Fourth, the Big Discovery factor: the thrill of perhaps seeing a new career jumpstarted, a formerly "unknown" person (a la Ronan Tynan) thrust into the limelight. Fourth, the uncanny resonance of the lyrics of her chosen song, for someone who seems to be travelling through a tough patch of life: "I dreamed a dream in time gone by/ When hope was high,/ And life worth living/I dreamed that love would never die/ I dreamed that God would be forgiving."
But there may be something else that accounts for our delight, and for those millions of hits.
The way we see Susan Boyle is very nearly the way God sees us: worthwhile, special, talented, unique, beautiful. The world generally looks askance at people like Susan Boyle, if it sees them at all. Without classic good looks, without work, without a spouse, living in a small town, people like Susan Boyle may not seem particularly "important." But God sees the real person, and understands the value of each individual’s gifts: rich or poor, young or old, single or married, matron or movie star, lucky or unlucky in life. God knows us. And loves us.
"Everybody is somebody" said Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan at his installation Mass in New York City yesterday. That’s another reason why the judges smile and the audience explodes in applause.
Because they recognized a basic truth planted deep within them by God: Susan Boyle is somebody.
Everybody is somebody.
James Martin, SJ