Growing up, I was never in the talent show. It wasn’t even a consideration. I could barely pass math, so the notion of talent seemingly passed me by. Life felt too narrow to think of talent as anything other than singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument – none of which I could do.
As I grew, so did my broadening of what I consider talent. The last several summers I attended a talent show for special needs campers as part of Catholic Charities Camp I Am Special program. My son is one of the teenage buddies responsible for a special needs camper for a week. It’s impossible to convey the scope of what this entails, the way these teenagers empty themselves in the compassionate care of their camper, and how this emptying fills them in ways that their social media feeds never do.
I don’t know if that’s considered a talent by the world’s standards, but Camp I Am Special culminates their week-long activities with a talent show featuring buddy and camper. Sometimes this entails a lightsaber duel, a song, or for more limited campers the simple twitch of their foot to music. It’s humbling to watch. Each time I vacillate between joy and tears. The tears aren’t of pity but rather for the purity of love embodied. Appearing limitless despite what physical or mental limits exist, this love is enveloping. The talent show is an expansive experience that broadens how I think of differences, gifts, and abilities to give.
This year, I not only witnessed it, but I was also an unlikely participant.
Mid-way through the talent show, a young man was singing and dancing to Y.M.C.A. by The Village People. He knew how to engage the crowd getting them to clap, sing, and spell letters with their limbs. He bounced off the stage and jaunted down the aisle of spectators high fiving them as he passed. On his second trip down the aisle, he whisked me out of my seat and before I even knew I was standing, he spun me under his arm. Never letting go of my hand, he pulled me towards the stage where I joined him for the remainder of the song.
I thought about being self-conscious, or how silly I might look, or how I might mess up the timing of my letters to the lyrics (which I did). Yet, as I stood on stage in what was my very first talent show, I realized it wasn’t about doing it perfectly or being the best or shining in the way gold sequins under the spotlight do. It was about the gift this young man had to bring joy to others, to remind us to abandon worldly standards of beauty, value, and contributions and consider that loving one another is always going to be the show-stopper.