Monday, June 1, 2009

She Dreamed a Dream

In the musical Les Miserables, a factory worker named Fantine is dismissed from her job after getting into a fight with some of her co-workers when they learn that she is sending money away for her illegitimate child. As she laments her bad fortune, she sings about her lost love and her broken dreams in the song "I Dreamed a Dream."

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.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine, untasted.

Fantine becomes destitute, ultimately resorting to a life of prostitution. She is arrested when she resists an abusive client and is sent to prison. Finally, though, she is pulled from prison by her former boss, the owner of the factory where she once worked, and she is sent to a hospital where she dies.

By now, many of us have seen the "Britain's Got Talent" sensation from a small village in Scotland, Susan Boyle. She's the lady who confessed to having never been kissed as she lived alone with her cat in her cottage. She is clearly a woman of meager means, looking for a fresh opportunity. [Open in a new window.]

As she took the stage for her first performance, we were able to see her win some disbelieving looks from an audience of several hundred onlookers and three judges, including the notorious Simon Cowell. She strutted and stomped awkwardly out onto the stage in a dress that was hardly the height of fashion and looking every bit as though she was wearing heels for the first time.

Nonetheless, she exuded a self-confidence that the faces in the crowd seemed to sense was misplaced. Their incredulity grew as she announced that she would sing the song, "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables. They clearly couldn't imagine this "cheeky" 50-year old woman issuing any justice at all to the tune. Then she sang...

The audience was blown away. Expressions of shock overcame the audience and hard-bitten judges were moved nearly to tears and breathless gasps.

Here was a woman who had lived a lifetime of rejection. She didn't know the warm embrace of love, arriving at this point having "never been kissed." Fifty years of hearing the word, "no." Fifty years of rejection. It seems that it would have been enough to mark a soul for a legacy of rejection and struggle.

But she didn't accept that outcome. She marched out onto the stage in front of that audience as though determined to challenge the 500 people in the audience before her and many more at home to reject the idea of adding their voices to the persistent rebukes she'd heard throughout her life.

Most would have surrendered long before.

She won the affections of the world that night, and ultimately, she placed second in the show's season finale. But her travails were not over. In the week before her final performance, reports seeped out of the United Kingdom that Ms. Boyle was crumbling under the flood of attention she had garnered. A day after her final performance, Ms. Boyle checked herself into a mental health clinic, suffering from exhaustion.

Fantine sang:

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed...
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...

There is broad speculation, mostly negative, about Ms. Boyle's chances for any kind of musical success in the aftermath of her surge to stardom. Who knows if she can endure the rigors of the road or the scrutiny of both the adoring and the cynical masses.

Here's hoping she recovers the spunk and courage that made her an international darling. Whether she pursues a professional music career from here or not, she has much to be proud of. Let's hope she continues to have a hope that is high and sees that hers is a life worth living.