Leaving the Bench Behind
Having previously confessed a susceptibility to the inevitable, cheesy scene in movies at which the underdog team prevails, I’ve held on to Mark Patinkin’s recent column about bench-warmers and failures ranging from Harry Truman to Lucille Ball. Such stories are inherently compelling — hopeful and affirmative of a sense of justice and good in the world.
Those of us who continue to find the moment of vindication elusive may wonder whether it will come (if it comes) in that crystallized declaration that our lives will never be the same, or whether it will be an indeterminable shift of degree in the past, reviewed in a moment of pause after years of chin-up, shoulder-forward work. Most of Patinkin’s examples seem to be of the latter sort — people who gradually built careers, reaching milestones, no doubt, but never so dramatically that the gains couldn’t easily be lost.
The success of reality-TV contest shows may lie in their ability to capture successes of the former sort. Surely, most of you have already heard of, if not seen, the spectacular splash of Susan Boyle’s singing performance on Britain’s Got Talent. The segment strongly recalls that of Paul Potts on the same show two years ago. There’s a shot, when Potts hits a musical crest, of the beautiful female judge gasping in a breath, redemptive, one imagines, of years of belittlement, doubt, and struggle in the life of the singer.
As I’ve watched my piano skills deteriorate with each month of overwhelmedness, I’ve been reminded that such talent never appears, and is never maintained, without labor, and one can imagine Susan and Paul rehearsing daily to the audiences of their living room walls and giving awkward recitals to the families of their teachers’ younger students. One can imagine, to be sure, millions of such people, floating as if displaced through ordinary lives, being scorned by coworkers and put-upon by self-superior bosses.
The unfortunate truth is that most of those millions will never experience a cascade of justification. Life will merely go on as it has, with a highlight here and there, but never any utter liberation from the judgments and sneers of past experience. That is, of course, unless through an equal exertion of labor, we develop a spiritual sense of triumph, do the world what it may.