Recently, I had the opportunity to judge a regional competition for high school theatre. I spent an afternoon and evening at one of the most beautiful high schools in the valley, being witness to the awesome bravery and acting skills of the high school students in one of the larger regions of the state.
Theatre is one of my most favorite things and when my daughter entered her middle school, we became intimately involved with all aspects of theatre – she on the stage, me behind the scenes. I learned so much about – and developed a profound appreciation for – theatre and what exactly it takes to pull off an astounding show. Because of this, when I go in to judge a piece, I go in with openness and appreciation first. Also, because I am not professionally involved with theatre – I’ve only participated on an amateur, volunteer basis – I haven’t developed an ego about it which may make it more difficult to be kind and open.
This year, one of the categories I had the privilege of judging was “Musical Theatre.” This category has 1-4 competitors per piece and my round had six competing pieces. One of these pieces was a young man who performed a number from a musical that was written by a man from his native country. The song was done in his native tongue, so I didn’t have any idea what he was singing or if he was annunciating or using good diction.
For about 10 seconds after he announced his piece and before he began, I felt angry that I would have no idea what he was saying, that I wouldn’t understand his words.
How am I going to judge something I don’t understand? I heard myself think those words and I nearly laughed out loud. In reality, that is what judging is all about in the real world… you look at something and make a decision based on what you think you know to be true about it based on your own experience. You don’t necessarily understand it, but you can recognize something familiar in it and that is what you judge.
I took a deep breath and mentally commanded, “I can See and I can Hear the truth, no matter what. I understand any language when I am willing to Listen.”
His number began and I watched him perform it. I watched him move and I watched his face. I listened with my Heart and suddenly I was there, in his homeland, and I understood the meaning of what he was singing, even though I didn’t understand a single word.
I was so moved by this young man’s courage, his beauty, his delicious voice, his obvious nervousness – I can only imagine that he knew it was a huge bet to sing in his native tongue at a primarily English speaking competition. But, even though I was moved by his courage, it wasn’t the reason I rated him the way I did. I rated him the way I did – fairly high marks – because he did a really good job of acting out and singing the message of the words I could not understand. Well enough that I actually understood the message he was conveying.
A few days later, I received a message from one of the acting coaches. I was so touched by what he relayed to me that I burst into tears immediately. At that moment, I happened to be working on a project for some Reiki training I will be doing soon and I was having a moment of self-doubt so his message was perfectly timed and so powerful for me as a reflection of my commitment to Seeing, Hearing, and Feeling others.
With his permission, I share his feedback:
Coach: I just read the notes you gave one of my students. Thanks so much for being so kind to the kids!!!
Me: Thank you. I’m curious which piece you were reading about. Are you willing and able to share?
Coach: It was the musical theatre piece the kid did in the foreign language. I knew he had the deck stacked against him, but I also knew he would never get another opportunity to perform in his native language like that. The other judges eviscerated him, but you got to the core of the story he was telling. You’re the only one who could look past the language barrier and see what he was trying to communicate. Thanks again!
Even now, days later, tears still come to my eyes when I realize that my willingness to move beyond my own restrictions and be open to the truth allowed me to be fully present with and wholly witness another person. I was able to see that young man’s truth and honor it. I was able to be present for his experience and honor it.
Being willing to See, Hear, and Listen to another fully is such a connecting power. I learned so much that day about him, his culture, and his tender heart. And, through all that, I learned so much about myself too. I am appreciating that my commitment is now reflecting in how I live my life. It is no longer a pipe dream, an affirmation meant to hopefully change things, or a bunch of empty words. It is actually a way of life… and this way of life is quite beautiful. I feel so grateful for this experience!