Suffering in the Spotlight

I have been captivated by a recent audition on America’s Got Talent.

It is worth every second of your next seven and a half minutes to watch it, here:

Since watching Nightbirde’s audition a few times, I have also watched a couple interviews that she has given in recent days, checked out these podcasts between her and Virginia Dixon, and perused some of her blog posts.

In one of the interviews, Nightbirde says of her original song, “It is the story of my life – the story that I’m currently still living out and I thought if there is any one song that has a message that I want to put into the world, it’s that song. […] The big lesson that I learned is that joy and pain exist at the exact same time. […] Even in the midst of such a bad time, there are so many gifts in the world that we didn’t even ask for.”

It was incredible to hear that, at the time that Nightbirde received her audition date, she was so ill that she was unable to sing the song all the way through.

Nightbirde’s audition was not only an opportunity for her audience to hear her sing but also to hear about how, as she puts it in another interview, making art is her way of “redeeming” and “upgrading” the bad things she was handed.

So often suffering can seem meaningless and senseless and in our culture suffering is often seen as something to be escaped rather than redeemed.

Nightbirde does not minimize her suffering, but neither does she exaggerate its significance in her life.

She does not present herself as a victim, nor does she conceal the profound kinds of suffering she is facing.

The realness and, as the judges identified, authenticity of her story combine with the alternation between the honesty of her interiority and the universality of the themes she explores in what constitute some very compelling lyrics.

Nightbirde is 30 years old and has been told she has a two percent chance of survival.

And so she says with remarkable clarity something that is a luminous insight for us all: “No, my life isn’t something that’s going to happen to me in the future. My life is happening now. My life is today. And if I can write a song today, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to wait for the right time. I’m not going to wait for the right time to be grateful or to be happy and wait until it feels safer because life is always hard, life always hurts – like, always.”

This reminds me of what Jordan Peterson has said he most wants to leave his audiences:

Being is suffering
tainted by malevolence
And so what’s the meaning?

There’s pain to alleviate
There’s chaos to confront
There’s order to establish and revivify
and there’s evil to constrain
not least in our own hearts
and that’s meaning enough for everyone.

As Nightbirde willingly shares her suffering while she is in the spotlight, she teaches a culture too often enamoured with escaping suffering that it is both possible and so much more beautiful for suffering to be redeemed.

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