Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 8

“There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless – a miserable business!” (Ecclesiastes 4:8)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Thursday, 4/5/12
9:00 am Pacific Time, near San Francisco

Miss Jane Marple, one of my favorite Agatha Christie detectives, lived and grew wise in the fictional country village of St. Mary Mead. The four cardinal virtues, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the seven deadly sins jostled there as neighbors. Being from a tiny village myself, I am acquainted with all of them. Such is the Human Condition.

Why would Blackburn, near Bathgate, West Lothian be any different?

When suddenly the careworn council house on Yule Terrace gleamed golden, its glow shone on vice and virtue all around. Susan seems wisely and slowly to be discerning one from another now that her village has expanded to seven continents.

For good reason, the Bible warns: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10a). Money, itself, is not the root, because it can support truly noble causes – like providing food, clothing, and shelter for one’s family. But the love of this medium of exchange (or its near relatives like fame and power) can point us away from goodness and nobility, away from peace within our hearts, away from peace among one another.

In four visits to Blackburn since 2009, I have sensed both darkness and light in the village. I have asked very few questions about Susan, yet locals, to my surprise, have volunteered information. With a small minority, my heart has felt heavy, sad, and confused. I have heard of at least one friendship ruptured by suspicion and whispered or public accusations, as if the internet troll had wormed his way into rooms of brick and mortar. The malodor stays with my spirit as a warning. I don’t know exactly what is going on, but I know all is not well when one or more of the seven peskies seem to hover in fetid darkness.

Conversely, I have encountered other locals – most notably our forum members stevieboy49, Little Tiger, moira, Scottish Mary, wullawonta, and their dear ones – who, having tested our sincerity, have responded to the higher ideals beckoning all of us. They celebrate Susan’s new life, respect and care about her as a person, seek no selfish gain, offer generosity, and live in gratitude for the expanding genuine friendships we share as a worldwide community of supporters. When I think of these friends, my heart lifts.

Let me be bold: This is what God wants for us, His beloved children, just as good parents rejoice when their children are happy, doing both good and well, and getting along.

The Beloved to whom I have professed my own vows said during the meal we re-live this Holy Thursday in kairos time: “I call you not servants but friends.”

In a kairos moment several weeks ago, I happened upon a thin paperback book lying on a table where it didn’t belong. I recognized the author’s name – Saint Aelred of Rievaulx – which I had learned only recently. This slim treasure, Spiritual Friendship, had been translated and published in 1977 by an American monastery of the popularly acclaimed saint’s ancient Cistercian order.

Born c. 1110 in Hexham, 23 miles west of Newcastle upon Tyne, Aelred was sent at about 15 to live in the court of King David I of Scotland. An esteemed member of the royal household, he stayed for about 10 years before entering the Cistercian monastery in Rievaulx in 1134. He became a beloved and prominent abbot at Rievaulx and made annual visitations to the abbey’s daughterhouses, including the beautiful Melrose Abbey, founded by King David I, about 40 miles south of Edinburgh. Saint Aelred died in 1167. He was known for holiness, kindliness, and wisdom. Upon the death of King David I, who had remained a close friend, Aelred wrote a eulogy documenting King (Saint) David’s own piety, virtues, and good works.

Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship starts with Cicero’s definition: “Friendship is mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity.” Aelred then develops these principles from a Christian view supported by Scripture, encouraging true spiritual friendship as a participation in God’s own inner Trinitarian life. He also identifies false friendships, placing them in two general categories: friendship for carnal pleasure, and friendship for material gain.

I found a beautiful summary by Sister Patricia Carroll, OCSO, a Cistercian nun:

If we follow Saint Aelred’s counsel, Susan is wise to discern the character and intent of people who approach her now that she is famous and wealthy. She is wise to live among people she has known her whole life, whose character and intent could not hide for long in a small village.

Many of us yearn to be true cuppa-tea friends with Susan. We surprise ourselves with this realization, because most of us never desire friendship with other celebrities whom we admire.

Why do we feel this way?

I believe that in our desire for genuine friendship with Susan, herself – which logistics make improbable for most of us – we are seeking to live ideals together with Susan and others.

We who traveled to Newcastle in person or in cyberspace, who have been forming friendships with one another as we support Susan’s career, seem drawn to the ideals of Truth, Love, Justice, and Beauty. Does not the famous audition video neatly depict the triumph of these ideals?

According to Father Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, PhD, and to his classical and biblical sources, these are the only goods that can bring true and lasting happiness (other goods are good, but insufficient). These also happen to be qualities of God for which our souls thirst. (Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues)

Susan, by developing and offering her God-given gifts, attracts hearts to these ideals, and community forms around them. This is precisely how the gifts of God work, and He often uses the most humble and unlikely instruments. Susan acknowledges this in her book. We need not exalt Susan and put her on a pedestal – which is one reason many of us applauded when she put her foot down to “stay grounded” on Yule Terrace.

Susan intrigues us with her “many sides” so guilelessly offered or, if not safe, prudently withheld from view. Many of us genuinely want to be her friend in a comfortable mutual way. Must this be psychologized with suspicion and technical labels? No. Consider our unexpected friendships with people we have come to know thanks to Susan. We know when friendships are real and growing, based on mutual recognition of goodness and shared ideals. Such friendships can and ought to take time to develop (according to Saint Aelred), but if the foundations are strong, so the building will be.

Most of us enter friendship with personal imperfections. We all still must take stock and attend to the darkness and light within our hearts. Am I now being enticed by one of the seven deadlies, or is my heart moving toward goodness? I can choose to move toward goodness, which, like sparkling white snow, collects more as it rolls along.

Whether one is Christian or not, some handy lists from Galatians, Chapter 5, can help us sort out what’s going on inside and outside of us.

In the category of darkness we find: “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.”

In the category of light we find: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

We sense and are drawn to the goodness within Susan, which sparkles through the earthiness, the admitted outbursts, and the foibles we embrace because we love her foundational character and spirit, and because our hearts sing with her voice.

Those of us who would love to be true cuppa-tea friends with Susan feel no need to idealize her, to have her be other than who she is. Who among us does not settle with relief into the armchair of a good friend who accepts and loves us as we are? Such acceptance offers us the safety to be honest and to improve.

A true friend does not take something from us, nor do we take something from our friend. Attend to the message in your heart: Wanting to get something from someone feels different from sharing with someone. In true friendship, we give companionship and support mutually with joy – and with a good reserve of tolerance.

Nearly 100 good-hearted people from 15 countries and 20 of the United States of America gathered as a group in Newcastle. We were Catholics and other Christians, people of the Jewish faith or of no religious tradition (those are just the ones I know about). We were rich and not so rich, young and venerable, with various first languages and professions. If I had to choose one word to describe my impression of the people gathered, it would be “kindness.”

I enjoy traveling with Bonnie to Susa-events in part because we both honestly acknowledge our dreamed desire for true cuppa-tea friendship with Susan. I can attest that Bonnie enjoys true friendships in her life, as do I. Yet a tendency toward friendship is expansive. An open heart tends not to say, “Okay. I’ve had enough. I’ve just run outta love.” God’s friendship is exactly the opposite.

Lord, help us as you did Saint Aelred of Rievaulx.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 7

“Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness.” (Ecclesiastes 10:17)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Monday, 4/2/12
10:00 pm in Blackburn, Scotland

Bonnie and I left the beautiful city of Newcastle upon Tyne on Thursday morning. We caught the London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley train, passing through alluring green or freshly tilled reddish-brown fields interrupted by burghs similar to Blackburn. Back-yard clotheslines sagged with laundry taking advantage of the warm sunshine. Beyond, the North Sea stretched into the haze. Occasionally, we passed ancient ruins or still-used remnants, which I’d love to learn about someday.

This year, I arrived in Edinburgh and environs with a sense of belonging I had not known in past visits. Earlier this year, my twin had explored the ancestry of some women who had married into our well-documented Brown family line. We knew our branch of Browns had arrived in America in the late 1600s and, a few years later, had settled West Nottingham, Pennsylvania. Leslie’s online investigations this year revealed surprising, old, deep roots in Scotland. Although Leslie and I had greatly enjoyed our day in Edinburgh in September 2009, our sense of its history was not then enriched by this new knowledge.

Can loyalty and affection be transmitted through DNA? I would like to think so.

From Waverley Station in Edinburgh, we easily found and hopped aboard the fetching ScotRail train that stops at Bathgate en route to Glasgow and other points west. The train skirts the solid rock base from which Edinburgh Castle, originally built by King David I in the 12th Century, still exercises its skyline reign. The train then passes through green fields punctuated by the distinctive oil shale bings left over from deep-coal-mining years.

After half an hour, we eased into the new Bathgate railway station. From there, we caught the local bus to Blackburn. The driver helpfully sorted out our unfamiliar coins totaling a pound 30 each. We checked in at the Burnview B and B.

In the spirit of kairos, we let go of most agendas except blogging (or, in Bonnie’s case, watching many episodes of Downton Abbey she’d downloaded on her iPad), checking the forum, foraging for food and drink, attending Mass, walking, and getting enough sleep.

In some ways, these days have resembled those of the beautiful horses we were happy to meet a mile or so down the road at the Equestrian Centre beside Blackburn House – the original manor, dating to 1772, which was refurbished from dereliction in the late 2000s. Gregarious animals, horses mostly live to eat, drink, socialize, run and jump, roll, and sleep – often standing up. A pretty young stable hand, a college student, was kind enough to introduce us to several of the horses, describing their equine idiosyncrasies and imparting husbandry lore. We met and admired Iris, a sturdy dark-brown mare with a glorious long tail, nearly 17 hands, an avid jumper, identified as a “Welsh section D” breed – familiar terminology here but heretofore unknown to me. Listening to the contented munching; gazing into incredibly kind, large, knowing, dark eyes; stroking shaggy winter coats; breathing with a horse as she got to know me; dodging teeth when he nuzzled and nibbled searching for possible food (turns out I had an apple in my pocket) – I remember so well the days Leslie and I daydreamed of living in a stall and tending horses as our life’s work. “Wild Horses….”

Back to the present, I have learned that the traditional Scottish breakfast – small portions of thick bacon, haggis, two other kinds of sausage, fried egg, roasted tomatoes, toast, fruit juice, and tea – keeps me going until dinner with no hunger pangs. I’d rarely eat this at home, though!

Walking outside on mostly sunny days, we inhaled friendly pastoral wafts of cow and sheep manure blowing from the extensive green pasturelands behind the Burnview and the Posh House.

The local B and Bs are seldom full, and are perhaps often empty, so our occasional patronage supports the local economy – which, we hear, has languished since the Bathgate tractor and truck plant of British Leyland Motor Corporation closed in 1986. The Happy Valley still serves as a pub of choice for working men and fewer women. Clientele of other pubs in the area likely serve a stable constituency. The Qualifryer Fish & Chicken Bar still maintains an irregular schedule. The immigrant owner of the Chinese take-out, who lives in the tidy dwelling above his family business, sweeps the sidewalk and entryway before evening opening hours. Blackburn Connected (the library and free computer site) still serves as a daytime educational and social hub.

We noticed some beautifications: a small neat garden at the corner of Bathgate-Blackburn Road and Main Street; a few other old buildings being refurbished; the Margaret Cottages 1905, further west along Main Street toward Whitburn, with freshly painted trim and attractive window treatment. Bonnie pointed out a row of newly planted trees in the downtown area near the Happy Valley and The Mill Centre. A new two-storey house behind the police station shows few signs of activity although it is immaculately maintained.

Occasional small signs posted along sidewalks read:

Dog Fouling
(Scotland) Act 2003
Please be a responsible dog owner
if it fouls in any public area.
You are breaking the law if you don’t.
West Lothian Council

The sign includes a visually and nasally evocative graphic. Alas, despite other enhancements locally, some village dogs seem not to have learned to read since my last visit.

We discovered that people, including families with children, can now enjoy dinner out in Blackburn. Actually, they can enjoy simple but satisfying pub grub along with their favorite beverage. An area restauranteer and his wife have spent the last four years carefully refurbishing The Crown Inn, a 100-year-old establishment on the old road from Edinburgh to Glasgow, which re-opened in December 2011. (According to tradition, one night the king stopped there for dinner and lodging.) The personable manager, who grew up in Blackburn and lives upstairs, introduced us to the owner, who lives somewhere in West Lothian and frequently visits each of his establishments in the area. We felt ourselves to be welcome visitors – and easily identified curiosities.

Three years after Susan’s worldwide fame began, our American accents remain day-to-day rarities. Wherever we go in West Lothian, every accent in the air sounds like Susan’s – except when we joined a handful of Susafans for Saturday dinner in Bathgate and Sunday Mass in Blackburn. The dire prediction of Blackburn being overrun with tourists has proved a dark fabrication. Graceland stays in Memphis, Tennessee; Dollywood, in the Great Smoky Mountains. Susaland exhibits few obvious changes, except for positive ones initiated by locals.

Tonight while awaiting our last-evening dinner – toasted tuna paninis – at The Crown Inn, a white-haired gentleman we had not met called across the room from his barstool: “When are you going back to California?” Which means our quiet presence here has been notable, not routine. He joined us at our table, and we all enjoyed a lively educational hour.

Nearby Bathgate dreams of resurrection as a West Lothian cultural magnet. The historic Steelyard and adjacent Bathgate Town Centre have been renovated, with a Wi-Fi zone enticing visitors not quite ready to disconnect from the wider world. According to a council member, “This area will be known as Saint David’s Square as it lies outside Saint David’s Church.”

(This Saint David may or may not be King David I – a saint according to some sources – who was a notably pious and well-educated son of Queen [Saint] Margaret of Scotland. He reigned as King of the Scots from 1124 to 1153. During his long mostly peaceful reign, he initiated significant favorably regarded changes now characterized as the Davidian Revolution, with effects still experienced today in Scottish civic, cultural, and spiritual life.)

The Bathgate Regal Community Theatre enjoys similar renewal. Its website announces:
Regal Project 2012 is about engaging the community in an exciting venture to promote the facility as a major community arts venue. We are keen to provide new opportunities that will involve people of all ages who have an interest in the Theatre and the arts. We are particularly keen to hear from people who would be willing to volunteer a few hours of their time each week to make this project work. If you feel you could bring something to this then please come along to our meeting on the 19th January 2012 to discuss it further.
Later reports laud a “huge response” – a fact my theatrical airplane companions from Oregon would delight to hear.

We have returned to the Burnview B and B, and our friendly hosts have phoned a taxi to pick us up at 5:00 am.

I feel anticipatory homesickness for this quiet, simple, beautiful place where I have experienced rest and curiosity. Far from killing us (unless maybe we pry too deeply into sensed cultural undercurrents), curiosity keeps our minds and spirits alive and engaged with our surroundings and its dwellers.

Until next time, sweet Blackburn, Deo volente.

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5)


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 6

“Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 7:11)

Leslie pastes herself into the guest blogging for a moment: I’m selecting the Scripture verses for Marie’s posts. She would not purposely choose complimentary words for herself – but I can!

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Wednesday, 3/28/12
4:30 pm in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

Respond to God’s unexpected invitations.

Bonnie Campbell and I are sitting in the waiting room of BBC Newcastle awaiting our live drive-time interview with Jon Harles, a popular radio program host.

This is the day after opening night of The Susan Boyle Musical, I Dreamed A Dream, which is receiving widespread favorable reviews from media as distant as the Los Angeles Times.

The musical, itself – given its subject and its prominent cast and creative team – sparks media and public interest on its own. But we 100 supporters with our diverse accents enhance the story. The newshounds want to know why we came here from 15 countries, including Australia, and 20 of the United States of America. Many print, television, and radio reporters have stopped us in the streets or in the Theatre Royal foyer or restaurants, brandishing mics, cameras, and classic little paper pads for capturing shorthand notes.

Our group has no official spokesperson for these events, so any of us may consent to an interview and many of us have over the last few days. This speaks to the egalitarian structure of our fansite. While our servant-leaders (volunteer board of directors, administrators, and sueper moderators) help all run smoothly and as courteously as possible, the energy comes from widespread grass-roots interest and talent. As active supporters, we carry more accurate details about Susan’s life and career than most journalists.

At our lovely luncheon today, the call went out for someone to volunteer for this assignment. Others could have served admirably, but I raised my hand first.

Bonnie’s and my instructions were: “A cab from BBC will pick you up in front of the Premier Inn at 4:15.” Which it did.

The very courteous staff at the BBC Newcastle offices checked us in, gave us our badges, and asked us to make ourselves comfortable. Which we have done, despite a few nerves.

Suddenly, it’s 4:40. The show’s producer greets us and leads us into the green room, where we can view the radio hosts through a soundproof window. The friendly young woman producer chats casually with us, helping calm our nerves.

Now it’s 4:47. The previous interviewee – a sports star – emerges from the studio, and in we go. Bonnie had not intended to speak, but the producer and host and I wheedle her into sitting in front of one of the mics. She is hooked.

I think you’ll agree she has a future in radio!

And, by the way, I meant to say, “April 11, 2009” and “100 million YouTube hits.” Thank you for understanding.

Listen here (thanks to a supporter in Pennsylvania who quickly uploaded the interview to YouTube for easy access):

“Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 5

“Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Tuesday, 3/27/12
7:30 pm at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

We have entered kairos time.

Of course, I am not actually typing away on my laptop during the world premier opening night performance of The Susan Boyle Musical, I Dreamed A Dream. But the experience is surreal enough that it’s hard to tell chronos from kairos time. They are sharing space at the beautifully renovated Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Lead actress Elaine C. Smith employs “fairy dust” and finger snaps to move simple scenes, actors, and audience from the present to the memories in Susan Boyle’s early and recent life. What I feel most surreally is the awareness that we audience members who have actively supported Susan since April 11, 2009, are genuinely a part of the story unfolding on stage.

Many of the very same people are with Susan in both times and places at once. We were there in 2009. We are on stage or operating behind the scenes. We are in the plush maroon seats laughing, crying, cheering, fishing Kleenex out of our pockets.

We are here on opening night – either in person or eagerly awaiting reports launched into cyberspace.

We are here on opening night – and, as Elaine C. Smith dons a beautiful long red coat symbolizing “Susan now,” many of us wear red crocheted roses of support.

We are here on opening night – and at least one of us sits in the Happy Valley with his father when Susan “stops the room” nearly 30 years ago with her first-ever public karaoke performance.

We are here on opening night – and the April 11, 2009, audition fills our and millions of other computer screens as, one after another, we discover and send this must-see YouTube link to our friends and family.

We are here on opening night – and we find and post links to television news reports projected on the creative TV-screen stage backdrop.

We are here on opening night – and, horrified by the unconscionable conduct of some media, we arise in verbal protest in the comment sections of the online bully-press.

We are here on opening night – and we huddle around our computer monitors watching the heartbreaking finals of Britain’s Got Talent.

We are here on opening night – and we are on stage as the helpful souls during Susan’s dark few days at The Priory who tell her how much she means to us, how she has unwittingly soothed our own sorrows and rekindled the God-given passions of our lives.

We are here on opening night – and we are among the millions who treasure the albums featuring some of the musical’s songs.

We are here on opening night – and we are the awaiting adoring crowd at Rockefeller Plaza on that crucial crisp dark morning when, according to the play, Susan chooses to embrace the startling new life that has come upon her.

We are here on opening night – and the real Susan Boyle takes the stage to greet the real people who are part of her story.

“Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 4

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12a)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Tuesday, 3/27/12
11:16 am in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

Susan Boyle and her worldwide growing contingent of fans became constants in my life on April 15, 2009. Often I go to sleep at night filled with gratitude for this community.

As Susan continues to astonish the world with outside-of-the-box “firsts” (like consenting to and participating in this classy musical), my non-fansite friends and family members have had to admit that Leslie, Del and I were on to something from the start and have been faithful to it. Eye rolling has ceased although full-hearted understanding has yet to develop.

How could they understand something we, ourselves, do not?

At work Friday afternoon, I hoisted my small backpack, preparing to catch the bus to the airport. One co-worker asked, “Where are you going on vacation?”


“I knew it!!!”

They all chuckled indulgently, even enthusiastically, as I explained our mission. “Have a great time!”

“Fan” inadequately describes our role in Susan’s life since April 11, 2009. In fact, we are supporters motivated by inexplicable love and heart-response to a singer and person who inspires us to go out of our way on her behalf and on behalf of others. The hundreds of active supporters whose fansite or real names I recognize represent only a small percentage of Susan’s worldwide fan base.

In June 2011, a fansite member in England started a thread on the discussion forum. She asked, simply, if any of us would care to attend, as a group, opening night of The Susan Boyle Musical, I Dreamed A Dream, at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. If so, she would serve as the group contact with the theatre. Although March 27 was nine long months away, Jan “the subofan” quickly heard from 40-some members – a number that grew to nearly 100 people from 15 countries and 20 of the United States of America.

Last June, none of us knew that Susan Boyle, herself, would sing two songs after the curtain dropped. We responded immediately and unconditionally, trusting that the musical would be good and desiring to show our support regardless. We need not wait for the reviews to make up our minds to buy our tickets, book our hotel rooms, make airlines reservations. In fact, we wanted to write our own reviews for interested fans who could not attend. We wanted to write our own reviews to document, as accurately as possible, the true experience. We volunteers wanted our reviews out there to enrich and, if necessary, to counter the professional media’s understanding and reporting.

Since many of us are on budgets, this trip and others in support of Susan represented an investment in what we hold dear. I’ve heard that, if we want to know someone’s actual, not merely espoused, values, we look at their checkbook register.

Or we look at their volunteer timesheets. Even those unable to attend the musical were preparing for it. Our fansite (and others) has attracted many dozens of talented volunteers who simply show up online with a creative effort to further our support for Susan and for the “good guys” in her life. For example, when early publicity for the musical started appearing in UK and other media, our members posted the links on our forum, which engendered thoughtful and sometimes spirited discussion. We have become a cyber-salon reminiscent of scintillating Parisian venues in the 17th and 18th centuries.

(Truth be told, at other times we are a cyber-extended-family-potluck to which all the grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and their friends are invited or simply welcomed. Sometimes we get into arguments, with one or two stomping out or being asked to go walk around the block to cool off. We are a sort of collection of… it’s a collection of… uh… characters from many walks of life and pockets of the world.)

Susan has attracted such unsolicited spontaneous support from around the world since April 11, 2009.

On April 11, when a London construction worker inspired by Susan’s performance hastily constructed the first fansite, we began discovering one another, gathering online to find, post, and discuss all things Susan. Many of us also gathered at a YouTube audition video site, affectionately named “Susan’s Pub,” forming friendships that continue today. These volunteer fansites – the very concept new to most of us – were alive and thriving months before Sony established the Official Site for Susan’s albums. I am pleased to say that our now-fan-owned and volunteer-operated fansite,, and its, offer the most up-to-date and diverse news and discussion about Susan, relying on the dedication of volunteers whose efforts money could not buy.

But that is now. We began when Susan’s astonishing future was yet unknown.

Early on, we drew Susan and her team’s attention as the champions who defended and stood by her when anonymous online comments turned nasty.

We sent hundreds if not thousands of hand-written personal letters encouraging Susan and thanking her for the blessings and encouragement she bestowed through her singing and her inspiring yet humble, humorous, earthy example.

We sent dozens and dozens of “Rose Votes for Susan” – beautiful bouquets of flowers to the studio on the day of the BGT finals in June 2009, when, as non-UK world citizens, we couldn’t affect the actual vote. Susan acknowledged these in her autobiography.

When Susan quickly left The Priory – on her own terms – so that she could participate in the Britain’s Got Talent 26-show tour, supporters booked tickets for various venues and managed to film with cell phones and upload into cyberspace about a dozen of Susan’s 20-some performances. I remember many a night after a draining day at work staying up late with the worldwide fan community to watch, re-watch, comment, re-watch…every performance. We could then knowledgeably inform our day-to-day compatriots that Susan was, in fact, resurrected from the tabloid ashbin, performing brilliantly, as we knew she would.

Then, fans from all seven continents in the world responded to a thread, “If we made a quilt for Susan, would you contribute a square?” During this cyber-quilting-bee, we sent Carol in Texas 100 beautiful quilt squares representing our country and state; non-quilters gratefully accepting the generous offer of Phyllis, an Iowa quilter, to make squares for us. Supporters also took it upon themselves to contact people important in Susan’s life to allow quilt squares to be made for them. Carol assembled all in her sewing room, creating a beautiful reminder of our love and support, which Susan could wrap around herself on cold days.

When we learned that Susan was producing an album, we lined up at, winding around cyber-city blocks to await the instant we could begin pre-ordering the album. On that day, September 3, 2009, I placed my first order from an internet café in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland. Our spontaneous worldwide fan response broke Amazon records.

In mid-September, about two dozen of us traveled to Los Angeles and stood for hours in line to join the audience for the America’s Got Talent pre-taping of finals-night entertainment. We wore the now-famous red scarves that Susan could easily spot in the darkened auditorium, subtle signs of encouragement for our heroine. We know from her book about her paralyzing stage fright before she yet again wowed the world with her rendition of “Wild Horses.” Of course, someone immediately uploaded the performance to our fansite for others to find.

When the first documentary of Susan’s life was being assembled for initial airing on December 13, 2009, the producers, Talkback Thames, invited fans to submit videotapes of themselves saying, “Hello, Susan!” Fans from various countries sent their homespun contributions, several of which appeared in the documentary. We did this for love, not for money – as volunteers.

During October and November, the first organized fan gatherings started cropping up – first in Northern California (I believe), then everywhere fans could congregate. Especially for those of us whose near associates didn’t “get” our heart-response to Susan, these meet-n-greets were and are precious opportunities to meet face to face, to laugh and share with those whose personalities we had gotten to know through forum postings. The cyber-salon increasingly resembles the actual salons of Paris. Genuine friendships continue to be fostered through fan-organized meet-n-greets that take a variety of creative forms – including the “Anyone live on I-80 or I-90 between NYC and Montana?” roadside restaurant meet-n-greets with Del and Leslie in August 2010.

We found out that Susan would appear November 23, 2009, on NBC’s Today Show. She would be performing outdoors at a free concert in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City – the day her first album was to be released. This would be aired live to NBC’s millions of viewers around the United States. We looked around at each other in the cyber living room and said, “Let’s go!” About 100 of us got tickets and flew, drove, or railed from all corners of the United States, Canada, and a few European countries to stand for hours in the cold and dark, to cheer Susan on – and to treat ourselves to the thrill of hearing her sing in person, most of us for the first time. We shared hotel rooms and slept on couches and spare beds in the homes of other fans.

We learned from Susan’s public relations representative, Nicola Phillips, that she had invited the press to Susan’s arrival at JFK and that she would like fans also to greet Susan. Some three dozen fans, many of them newly having flown in for the Today Show concert, gathered at the British Airways greeting area with welcoming signs, red scarves, a Scottish Saltire flag – and enough red scarves for every news reporter and camera person to wear.

Of course, we gathered the evening before the Today Show at St. Andrews Restaurant near Times Square – a tradition later memorialized in the recent documentary, Susan Boyle: An Unlikely Superstar. After the Today Show, we enjoyed a festive brunch at Rock Center Café – which is where some of us met Susan for the first time, when she, Andy Stephens, and other members of her team made a surprise appearance. There, we also presented the beautiful handmade quilt and other objects demonstrating our love and support for Susan. She began to know us as down to earth, funny, generous, creative, enthusiastic, and certainly willing to go the extra 3,000 or so miles.

All of this early worldwide volunteer support began before Susan had sold a single album. That cold sunny day in November 2009, she started breaking sales records worldwide, and her history-making professional singing career continues.

While we fans and active volunteer supporters can claim only partial credit for Susan’s phenomenal impact on the world, we do represent a profoundly important part of her story. We, ourselves, could not have done this had the circumstances not been right.

All of these memories and others passed quickly through my consciousness as I unpacked my dressier shoes and ironed my dress for opening night.

In the fullness of time, Susan was ready for the world and we were ready for her.

“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12b)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 3

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Saturday, 3/24/12
3:00 pm at London Heathrow

Susan was ready for the world and we were ready for her.

Astonishing, isn’t it, that I could drop a pound coin into an internet machine at LHR and learn that one of our intrepid elders had been lost but now was found?

Three years ago, 83-year-old Betty from the state of Georgia, USA, did not know silver-haired Pam from Australia. Now they have become frequent Susa-event roommates. When Betty did not arrive as expected in Newcastle, Pam SOSed the group email list of those traveling to Newcastle. Tout de suite, fans from other countries tracked down Betty at her son’s home in Georgia and reported the finding. Betty had missed her flight and would be delayed for a day. All were relieved.

This is the necessary era of simple, inexpensive worldwide communications into which Susan has come to prominence.

In the fullness of time, Susan was ready for the world and we were ready for her.

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 2

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Monday, 3/26/12
12:00 noon on the train to Newcastle

“Notice serendipity and report it” is one practice of living in kairos time.

Serendipity illuminates yet another gift Susan brings.

My lovely seatmates on the packed B747 flying from SFO to LHR were an attractive young woman and her mother. I normally don’t socialize on airplanes, but something about their casual, practical attire; their fitness; their ease with the crowded conditions, reminded me of Oregonian relatives and friends. They looked friendly and, after stowing my backpack under the seat at my feet, I said, “Okay, now, here we go.” And the conversation began.

Jessica, a fifth-year student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, is majoring in theater arts with emphasis on costume design. Janet, a former actress, is a theater professor in Eugene who teaches Shakespeare to at-risk and to gifted students in grades 6 through 12.

The London-bound duo obviously enjoys each other’s company. Jessica will live with a host family for the next three months and will participate in a special course offered by a knowledgeable University of Oregon professor. The group will visit historic and modern Meccas of theater. Janet will settle her daughter in at her temporary home then visit Shakespearean sites for the next few weeks. For each, this theatrical pilgrimage is a dream come true.

All of this I learned in the first 30 seconds.

So, I took a deep breath and revealed, “I am joining nearly 100 friends from 15 countries and 20 American states who are going to Newcastle for opening night of the musical, I Dreamed A Dream, about the life of Susan Boyle.”

I reported on the positive tweets beginning to pour in after the first preview, just hours earlier in real time.

The pair – who of course knew of Susan and actually knew something of her life – was delighted that a new live theater production was attracting a worldwide audience. “We would like to think that theater is not a dying breed,” said Janet.

Between catnaps during our 10-hour flight, Janet, Jessica and I discussed their passion for live theater.

Janet reported that many of her students have difficulties in the regular public schools and so are transferred to alternative schools where Janet teaches. “Learning Shakespeare is like learning a second language,” she said. “It engages their brain synapses in new ways, and their overall test scores improve.”

She also told of one boy who found it painfully difficult to speak up in class. However, playing roles of Shakespearean characters, he could speak fluently and comfortably, using different accents, because the persona – not himself – was on display. That improved his general self-confidence.

I posited that, perhaps, the camaraderie that develops among cast and crew producing a play could serve as a healthy alternative to young people who might be drawn to the pseudo-community offered by gangs. Janet affirmed this, citing experience with some of her students.

Jessica’s passion for theater costume design began as a young child, when she would draw elaborate costumes for fun. She, herself, was born one month prematurely, before a certain aspect of vision could develop. Fortunately, her parents sought and found vision specialists that trained the parents to work with Jessica to overcome this barrier. She speaks enthusiastically of her mother’s ability to engage young people from all walks of life in the theatrical classics.

I felt uplifted by these two women, who found their passions – their “who I was born to be” – early in life and are following them for the benefit of other people. Quoting a Susafan Facebook friend who wrote to me recently, “I just love goodness!!!!”

This airplane-seat education gave me even greater appreciation for Elaine C. Smith and the other professionals who have invested their talent and energy into a classic art form. Now, they have risked directing this creativity to a brand new musical about the early life and budding career of one of the most inspiring women of our time.

Indeed, I would like to think that I Dreamed A Dream will demonstrate that good theater, far from being “a dying breed,” can serve the world in unexpected beneficent ways.

“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:14)