By now, most of the world has heard of Susan Boyle. She is the forty-seven year old singer from the UK who leapt from obscurity to global notoriety singing “I Dreamed a Dream” From “Les Miserables.” Her clear golden tones bring shivers to the spine and tears to the eyes. But most of the world’s obsession with Susan Boyle is her quirky behavior and frumpy appearance. We have such a difficult time believing that something so beautiful can emerge from someone so ordinary.
This reminds me of my nephew Noah. Noah entered our lives as a toddler. He was small and thin, with an elfin face and braces on both legs. The day I met Noah, I wrapped my arms around his little body and drew him onto my lap. He snuggled close and promptly bit me on the shoulder. I jumped. He cried. It was love at the first sight.
Noah bears the scars of fetal alcohol syndrome. He doesn’t talk, except for a few poorly pronounced one-syllable words. At twenty-seven, he is the size of a skinny eleven year old. He is unable to read, or write. He is unsteady on his feet, and falls easily. His muscles are hard and tight, like bands that contort his arms and legs into stiff sticks.
Here’s the funny part, though. Noah knows things. He knows that his cousins are younger than he. Although they are grown, capable and educated, he refuses to allow them to usurp his family position and balks if they give him orders. He knows if his younger siblings are doing something they should not. He knows if he is being left out because of his disabilities.
Noah has he heart of a servant. He motions for me to sit in a chair. He brings me food, or drink that he has painstakingly prepared. He has a quick grin that lights the room. He snickers and giggles at conversations shared only between himself and his favorite stuffed animal, but erupts with huge belly laughs when someone in the room cracks a joke or exhibits some form of slapstick. He wears his heart on his sleeve. When he is happy, or excited, he screams with joy. When he gets angry, his face darkens like an August thunderstorm and he becomes immovable and tearful.
Noah can’t sing like Susan Boyle, but like her, he has taught us many things. He has taught us patience. He has taught us kindness and sensitivity to those who may not look or act the way we are used to seeing people. He has taught us to recognize people for the things they can do rather than the things they can’t. He has taught us to love people for who they are, and not for what they can give us.
Susan Boyle’s fame will fade in time. But hopefully, she and Noah have reminded us to take a moment and look deep inside someone’s eyes, rather than rolling ours. Thank you, Susan. And thank you, Noah.