“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” –Jane Marczewski
It’s been a long time since I have heard a story that I wanted to share with everyone I know. In an age when stories of life struggle and triumph are the soup of media life, it is unusual for me to witness one that is so full of raw love and courage that I can’t stop thinking about it. I had never heard of a golden buzzer award before and the last time I followed a reality television talent show was the year that Kelly Clarkson won, so I was surprised by what I witnessed in prime time. It was a true transformation – a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis – watching Jane Marczewski transform into Nightbirde while singing her original ballad “It’s Okay”.
Jane made me hopeful in a way that is hard to come by lately. Her audacity in the form of forgiveness and allowing life to be how it is, in her words “to be lost in the world and it’s alright”, is the kind of courage we all need right now. Walking the razor’s edge between life and death and daring herself to show up in her fullest form is an example that we all need.
Click to watch the America's Got Talent video on YouTube.
When asked who came with her to perform with, she said “I came alone. It’s okay.” When asked how she is now, she said that the last time she checked she still had cancer in her lungs, liver, and spine. “It’s okay.” In explaining the contagious glow she emanated, she said “It’s important that everyone knows that I am so much more than the bad things that happen to me.”
I watched her performance, like some other 20 million, on repeat. Especially the part when she won and fell to her knees, gold glittering down all around her. “Thank you, Thank you. Thank you.” This is the prayer that she claims she will keep repeating until she believes it. We all get to believe with her. Stories like Jane’s are so rare because usually our pain and suffering make us smaller, not bigger, versions of ourselves. In many ways, she showed us what it means to overcome death and loss, to come to a moment so fully alive because that is all she has – these moments.
I think this is a lesson that speaks to our time. So many people wake up with the dread of what is facing us – whether that be climate change, social struggles, or personal and relational health issues. We are waiting for life to not be hard in order for us to be happy. I don’t know that we will see a time any time soon when life is not hard anymore. And like Jane, we don’t really have control over the outcome. After her win, she shares that she has a 2% chance of living, but she said 2% is something; it’s not zero. Things may not go how we want and still we have at least 2% to lean into – to sing or shout or make the beautiful thing that has been waiting inside of us.
I keep coming back to Jane’s hands moving through the air, affirming the space that she has that it is okay to not be okay. It’s alright to be facing the confusion of too much information and system-wide failures in all the things that matter and to embrace them. There is a winning when we surrender to the life we have – broken and flawed as it may be – and to love anyway. The world depends on it.
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