Every once in a while I see a video on Facebook that I want the whole world to see. There was a video a few years ago of a baby laughing while her dad tore up what I think was a rejection letter. I could not watch or share that video enough. There was a video of a crow in Germany, I think, using a pie pan or something metallic to slide down the roof of a house again and again. There was the video of Senator John Lewis hugging a boy who had come from a long distance to get a sighting of his hero. That one made me sob every time I watched it, and I watched it many, many times, the boy’s face, the way John Lewis lay his head on the boy’s shoulder as they hugged. These moments are important to me. They recharge my system and remind me of what I love about life.
But then there was the video I’m going to share with you now. This one was shocking to me because it was someone I knew: my nephew William. His mom had posted it on Facebook and I watched it three times in a row. I hadn’t seen him in over a year, the longest I’ve gone without seeing him since he was born, and he had become a man with a voice. I had no idea he could sound like that, and what I took away from watching the video was the reminder of what a marvelous, flexible, strong tool voice is and how easy it is to take it for granted and to just use it to order Big Macs at McDonalds or to yell at the dog when it is a live and vital thing that can be used to bring a room to life and to make the planet a different, more exciting place.
(By the way, as a complete aside, if you have a baby in the Maine hospital where my sister-in-law had William, you will get a lobster roll for lunch. Not some sad wilty looking affair, but a real, truly wonderful lobster roll. I tried to give birth right there on the spot when I saw what she got to eat, but since I wasn’t pregnant, you can be assured this did not go as planned.)
Before seeing the video, I had known William was talented. He was so wildly creative as a child, I used to think he was a Sufi like Rumi or some other whirling dervish. Words and music and ideas poured out of him. Last time I saw him he sat at the piano and played music I thought was coming from hidden speakers in the walls. I didn’t even know he could play the piano.
After I saw the video, I understood that William was more than creative: he was a magician, only instead of pulling rabbits out of a hat, as he was growing up he was pulling himself out of himself, exponentially. He just kept getting more talented, more wonderful, more surprising.
Confidence is a gorgeous stage on which to stand and sing your story.
I asked him how long he had to practice to do something like the song I’d heard on the video. He said he’d meant to practice, but things kept coming up, so he practiced the two hours before he went on stage. He said all you have to do is hit one note right and then you’re good to go. He said he didn’t hit the notes right immediately, but he got it soon enough and he was happy with his performance.
William is 17 and just finished his sophomore year at RW Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine. The students put together a fundraiser for their drama department, and William decided to sing If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof because, well, you’ll know when you see. It looks like William is exploding with joy. At least that’s what I saw when I watched it, and that’s why I watched it again and again.
I asked William how he felt about being 17, and he said I’m just a hair’s breath away from being an adult, but I’m not entirely sure about all that: paying bills, leaving home, fending for myself. I asked him what he wanted to do in the future creatively and he told me he wanted to finally motivate to write something longer than 50 pages or to do some sort of voice work or acting.
I am so proud of William. I didn’t have half the guts he did when I was 17. I’m not sure I do now, but I want to, and so I watch him, I pretend I’m singing along with him, and that we are there up on stage together, singing our hearts out for the sheer joy of it.
William’s little brother Phineas is the face on the cover of my book You Don’t Look Adopted and could easily be the subject of a different blog posts, and his dad, my brother, is the guy everyone goes to when they need something done because Sam, apparently, can do everything, and William’s mom Ashley is one of the most artistic people I’ve met. When I go into their house on the farm, I start taking pictures as soon as I walk in the door because everything is art.
All of this is to tell you is that William comes from a special place and so it isn’t a surprise to me that he is such a special young man. But, still, this song. I just can’t get over it.
Here you go--(I think whoever recorded this was either 1. drunk 2. excited 3. going through detox jitters, so take seasick medicine before watching, or just close your eyes and listen):
See you tomorrow.
Photo is from the movie Paper Moon.