Susan Boyle: It Takes One to Know One

I was all set to write an Apex essay about introverts and tornadoes, but–as happens to writers from time to time–recent events compelled me to take my thoughts in another direction. Not about the huge lot of repairs my car suddenly needs, or the Unabomber squirrel who’s taken up residence in my attic, or the convention season I’m about to throw myself into, or–god forbid–Amazon.Fail. No, what’s been occupying my mind for the last few days nonstop has been Susan Boyle, Hero of the World.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock and haven’t managed to see Susan Boyle shock the world, watch it here. It’s seven minutes of your life you’ll be happy to lose over and over again. Don’t read the rest of this essay until you’ve seen it. And you might want a box of tissues handy.

I’m not sure what moment it was that I burst into tears watching this video. It might have been when that one girl in the audience turned up her nose incredulously. It might have been when Susan admitted to having never been kissed, or when she stumbled over the word "villages." It might have been after the second line of her song, when the audience all jumped to their feet in applause. It might have been Simon’s face, sighing and smiling like a kid who’s just been given the greatest gift in the universe. Someday I want to be looked at like that. Someday, I think we all do.

Whenever it was, I suddenly realized there was all this pressure in my chest and tears streaming down my cheeks. Like the Grinch,my heart grew so large it was hard to breathe. I have no idea what I was feeling then, but riding the crest of that wave of emotions was pride. I knew one thing without a doubt: Susan Boyle is my hero. And judging by the responses on Twitter and the posts I’ve seen scattered about the web, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

It was author C.E. "Catie" Murphy on whose blog I discovered Susan; if I didn’t love Catie to death already I’d certainly have reason to now. "What I love is how happy everybody is to share it," Catie wrote me. "She just keeps reminding me that everyone has hidden gifts."

It’s no secret that the world loves an underdog. It’s a foil, a trope on which many a book or movie has made millions. It’s the meek who inherit the earth. It’s the girl next door who lands on the moon. It’s the autistic boy who runs in the winning touchdown. It’s the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team. It’s the kid from Hawaii who becomes President of the United States. Dad once told me that he didn’t have to be a fan of a particular team in order to enjoy a sports game–he just sided with whoever was losing when he turned the television on. It made the game more worth the winning. Author Diana Rowland agrees that Susan Boyle’s story is right on par. "It’s the ultimate feel-good movie, boiled down into seven glorious minutes," she said. "Absolutely marvelous."

But forget movies–this is real life. Remember that man who saved the guy by pulling him under the subway? Remember the folks who helped get the kids out of the bus when that bridge collapsed? There are heroes living among us right here, right now. Any of us might be called to duty next, though few of us are actually brave enough to do so. What color is your soul? Do you have what it takes to bare it to this harsh, unforgiving world? Artists, writers, musicians — we folks claim to do this all the time. But do we? Do we really?

Consider the state of the world right now: we’re all afraid. We’re afraid of losing our jobs. We’re afraid of the stock market tanking all our 401Ks. We’re afraid of not being able to pay the rent or the mortgage. We’re afraid that storms or earthquakes will come and sweep away our houses like they’ve never been. We’re afraid we’ve been destroying the Earth all this time, and now it’s too late to take it back. We are ready to be mugged any minute by the monster in the back alley hungry to take our future, our identities, our homes, our jobs, and our lives. During the Cold War we were scared of the Russians. After 9/11 and 7/7 we were scared of terrorists. Now, it seems, we’re scared of everything. "What we get most of the time are horror stories," said Catie. "Imagine how much better the world might be if every day we were seeing stories like Susan Boyle’s headlining the news."

Indeed, what the world needed was not Spider-Man, or some alien from Krypton. The world needed some dowdy, pie-faced, forty-seven-year-old woman from nowhere, Scotland to step right up and show us the rainbow colors of her soul.

The moment she opened her mouth and sang that dream, Susan Boyle became a mirror to us all. We are all nervous and apprehensive, we are all overweight and unremarkable, we are all from a town no one’s ever heard of, we all have a cat named Pebbles, and we’ve all never been kissed. We’re not smart. We haven’t saved the world. We’re all hiding out on the Internet pretending we’re not lonely. Upon first glance, people look down on us. They yearn to make a snarky comment at our expense. They don’t know us. They don’t have to. They can go on living their petty, selfish lives without granting us so much as a passing glance. "We really can’t tell much of anything by looking at people," said Catie. "We justdon’t know anything about each other. My grandfather used to say there was something to learn from everybody. I think that’s true."

Deep down, we are all beautiful. We are all something special. We do make a difference, and we can change the world. The moment we touch someone else’s life, that person’s life changes. We are all Susan Boyle, and she is us. She taught us a lesson about who we were, and who we had the potential to be. And she shamed us all for misjudging her. "She showed that she deserved to be where she was," said Diana. "She deserved the standing ovation, and she knows that no one will ever snicker or roll their eyes at her again."

Susan’s song choice was simply icing on the cake. "I Dreamed a Dream," from Les Miserables has always been a beautiful song– be sure to look up the lyrics and read them all the way through. "I had a dream my life would be / So different from this hell I’m living…" In many ways, those words could be an anthem for our time. As Catie so eloquently put it, Susan Boyle’s performance was "a spark of brightness that offered some balance to a badly unbalanced world."

We all have hopes, and we all have dreams. Funny thing about dreams. A few decades ago, a thirty-four-year-old black doctor opened his mouth and told us about a dream he’d had. It was as much of an inspiration then as it is now.

No matter how old you are, you can be anything you want in this life. You can be a hero.  Just remember: heroes are as heroes do.