A Talent Show, Hallelujah

The Guideposts senior editor explains why a children's talent show reflects the world.

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Our church held its kids’ talent show last night. This being New York, the routines tended toward Broadway musicals, opera arias and a Leonard Cohen cover. The Leonard Cohen song was called “Hallelujah” (if you don’t know it, listen to this version and you’ll understand why a high schooler would be so keen on singing it), and I thought about that, about the exuberance of singing and performance, anything a person makes and offers as a gift to someone else.

Why exactly do people like performing and watching others perform? Imagine future anthropologists happening upon a parent’s video of that talent show. What would they make of eight-year-olds singing “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun? Or the harmonica-piano duet? Or the first-grader’s inspired, lisping rendition of “Little Red Riding Hood” that somehow included suitcases and other objects never before encountered in that story?

Why, the anthropologists might ask, are these kids doing this? And why do the grownups seem to love it so much?

Obviously it’s all hilarious and fun. But it’s more than that. People can’t help performing, every day. Not necessarily on a stage. But any time a person talks to someone, waves, writes a letter or e-mail, posts something to Facebook—any act of communication is a performance. No one simply transmits information. They transmit themselves as well, adjusting their voice, movement, words, everything to create a particular impression. They take a bit of themselves and expose it to the world.

There’s necessity in that of course—we all have to communicate. But I believe every one of those little performances reveals something deeper, a desire to be known, and known perfectly, that we long simultaneously to fulfill and escape.

I think of the kids onstage last night. Every note they sang shouted, “This is me! This is what I can do!” Every time their parents applauded they too shouted, “That little one is part of me! That’s what we can do!” They all drew back the curtain a moment on their most hidden selves. “This is me! This is what I can do!”

Isn’t it frightening to draw back the curtain like that? What if you do and someone laughs? Or, worse, what if they turn away indifferently? Is it possible to exist unregarded by others, unknown? Is a person still a person if they perform for no one?

For me that desire to be known, so powerful it expresses itself in everything we do, is one of those telling signs of our yearning for God. It’s telling not just because it’s there, but because it repeats itself so incessantly. We spend our lives searching for that perfect knowing. Nothing quite satisfies. None of our relationships measure up. Is it, then, a desire without an object, destined always to be frustrated? Or is there something—I should say someone—who will know us like that?

The world as a children’s talent show. A strange image, but strangely apt. We’re all up there, singing our hearts out, hoping against hope someone hears and says, “I know that song.” Well, in my opinion someone does. Hallelujah.

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at [email protected].

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