Many things about your life are not yours to choose. You didn’t choose to be born to that mother and father. Matter of fact, you didn’t choose to be born at all! You didn’t choose a body build, a nose, or ears. And you can’t rework the things that have happened to you since being born – where you grew up, your educational opportunities, your career choices, or your relationships.
What you can choose is the attitude you will take toward all those things. You don’t have to let your good fortune spoil you and make you an unbearable snob. You don’t have to wallow in self-pity and be defeated. An excellent example of the difference one’s attitude makes is the late Beverly Sills.
If you know the name Beverly Sills, it is probably as a famous opera singer. When she died of inoperable lung cancer this month at age 78, she left an impressive list of achievements as a performer, celebrity, and advocate for the fine arts. As a New York Times writer put it, she “demystified opera” for many Americans. Contrary to the stereotype of elitists in the fine arts, she was a good-humored artist who was willing to appear with both Johnny Carson and The Muppets to prove, in her words, opera isn’t just “fat ladies with horned helmets.”
What you may not know about Ms. Sills is how hard she had to work to get a break in opera and how many personal tragedies dogged her adult life.
Beverly Sills was born in Brooklyn to emigrant parents. Her Russian-born mother had dreams that her talented daughter would become a Jewish Shirley Temple and pushed her into singing and tap-dancing for radio shows. Her Romanian-born father put a stop to all that in favor of formal voice training and school. At 16, she began ten years of touring with opera companies.
Only in 1955, after eight failed auditions over a three-year period, was she accepted into the New York City Opera. Her professional breakthrough came in 1966, and she became one of the best-known, most distinctive, and widely hailed artists of the twentieth century. Happily ever after? Charmed existence? Hardly!
Ms. Sills and her journalist husband, Peter Greenough, had a daughter who was born deaf. Two years later, just as the parents were learning to cope with their daughter’s deafness, they had a son who was mentally handicapped. “[Doctors] knew nothing about autism then,” Sills later wrote.
Perhaps it was adversity that kept Ms. Sills from taking stardom too seriously. She seemed to enjoy comedic roles even after her much-heralded success in high-brow operatic roles. She reflected on her triumphs and tragedies in an interview given in 2005. “Man plans and God laughs,” she said. “I have often said I’ve never considered myself a happy woman. How could I, with all that’s happened to me? But I’m a cheerful woman. Work kept me going.”
Every life is a mixture of blessing and blight, achievement and heartache. We don’t choose the state of affairs but we do choose a state of mind.
Rubel Shelly GBCIII@aol.com www.RubelShelly.com