Last Sunday evening was the final of the TV program Britain’s Got Talent and Susan Boyle who wowed the world with her singing was the all out favourite to win. Susan Boyle became a world wide wonder as more than 100 million people watched recordings of her performance on the world wide web, which is more than any other person in history. Overnight, she went from being a person that no one ever looked at twice, to someone who had thousands of cameras focusing on her every move. What made Susan’s Cinderella-like story all the more amazing was that she never let go of her dream to become a professional singer even though she has struggled her whole life with certain mental difficulties as a result of being deprived of oxygen at birth.
In the end, Susan came a shocking second which perhaps was caused in part by reports that the week prior to the finals she had sporadic temper tantrums with the press and members of the public. This resulted in a wave of negative publicity with they suggestion that she was a fraud of sorts. Backstage after the show Susan again “cracked” and was subsequently admitted to a clinic to find her breath and balance after all the pressure. You can imagine the tabloids loving every second of the drama!
On reading some of the media commentary about all this I came across a letter I found of value by someone who chose to remain anonymous. Here is part of the letter:
My brother has moderate learning difficulties, caused (as in Susan Boyle’s case) by deprivation of oxygen at birth. To him, all human relationships are about trust – which is easily broken. My brother sees the world in extreme terms: either someone loves him or hates him.
The slightest hint that someone is criticising him, even if it is friendly and well-meant, and he becomes angry. He loses it. It is so hard to explain the vast contradictions in him – he appears ‘normal’, but not quite. Normal enough to be judged for his actions; different enough to be teased, bullied, laughed at.
I suspect that Susan Boyle’s graciousness in defeat was quite genuine; she clearly liked the young boys who won, and felt she was amongst friends. But backstage would have been a different matter; any stray remark (or stray remark she thought she heard) would very likely have tipped her over the edge.
Those of us who cope daily with developmentally-impaired people have to have a vast reservoir of patience. It’s not always possible, admittedly, because one thing we find difficult to admit to is how angry and violent our loved ones can be. Susan Boyle isn’t a fraud. She is both the innocent girl who never grew up and the foul-mouthed aggressive woman. Unlike most of the rest of us, she can clearly switch from one to the other in seconds, and be utterly unable to control it.
The letter writer’s amazing insights are humbling. They reminded me:  that we can never say we know someone until we know their pain, and we could add, that we will never know ourselves either until we have faced our own pain;  that what we see of another person is seldom, if ever, the full truth, making opinionated judgements of others not only pointless, but baseless;  that all of us are living paradoxes, meaning that we are a “both/and” people rather than an “either/or” people—in other words we are both “sinner” and “saint” – containing vast contradictions like everyone else.
O Jesus, help us to be gentle with the people around us, ever aware that we do not know the full truth of who they are. Open our eyes to their sainthood. Amen.