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I Had a Dream

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Friday, April 24, 2009

Her name is Susan Boyle. If you haven't heard of her, you need to listen to her. Consider it my gift to you. Go to YouTube, along with the tens of millions of others who already have, and listen to the voice of an angel -- a plump, unemployed, 47-year-old "spinster" (as she was described by more than one British newspaper) who lives with her cat.

Before her mother died two years ago, she used to watch Britain's version of "American Idol" with her daughter. Her mother told her she could win. So on April 11, in a plain-Jane dress, with a round face and an impish smile, Susan walked onto the stage of "Britain's Got Talent," facing a panel of judges and an audience of skeptics, all of whom were laughing at her until the first note, when they rose to their feet dumbstruck.

Who would expect a middle-aged nobody, a plump spinster in a frumpy dress, to be able to open her mouth and wow a crowd of thousands? Who would expect that such a woman could still dream, and have the guts and the grit and the pure God-given talent to make that dream come true?

"I Dreamed a Dream," she sang. Who doesn't? But most of us give up on ours, convinced we don't have what it takes, that our day has passed, that we're not young enough or skinny enough or pretty enough to make our dreams come true. Sometimes we blame others or fate or luck. But who or whatever we blame, the bottom line is the same: We come to believe that the dream was just that, and only children believe dreams come true. We give up, lose hope and call it growing up instead of giving up.

Maybe it was the memory of her mother urging her on. Maybe she didn't know "better," didn't understand that Simon Cowell would be smirking and so would the audience, that no one was on her side. Maybe knowing "better" isn't better at all.

I used to dream. I used to dream that a plump girl with thick glasses, no money and no connections, a nobody from Lynn, Mass., with a dead father, a sick mother and a history of abuse and no money at all, could somehow, someday, be a somebody. And the dreams kept me going, through dark days and disappointments. There were even moments along the way when I believed my dreams could come true, that little Sue Estrich, the smart girl who didn't quite know how to be and never did go to a prom or have a boyfriend or fit into a size 4, could turn that all around.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped dreaming. Now, I dream for my children: I pray for them and worry for them; I work for them and do for them anything I humanly can. But for myself? Too old, I say. Too old to compete with the blondes in the size 4's, too old to undo all the mistakes, too late to rewrite the ending.

If Susan Boyle believed that, she would never have walked onto that stage. If Susan Boyle believed that, the world would be a poorer place for never having heard her sing of her dream.

Susan Boyle didn't give up on her dream, and it is coming true. Dreams are not just for the young, or for those who wear a size 4. I may not be able to make mine come true, but I will cheer for her. And for you.

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