By Christina Capecchi
Oprah imagined the comeback long before Whitney Houston stepped on her stage and delivered it.
She sang, “Oprah said, ‘Girl, do you know you’re loved?’ Now I know my own strength.” Oprah blinked away a tear and the audience screamed, and in that moment, Whitney’s triumph over addictive drugs became Oprah’s triumph over sagging ratings.
It was a classic Harpo exchange, one that managed to feel both commercial and spiritual. As the two women hugged, I thought about the transformations we cheer into being, clapping and whistling, waving brightly-colored poster boards that broadcast our confidence.
In my 20-some years, I’ve been blessed with many cheerleaders, and lately, I’ve been more attuned to their impact, the way they spur along my pursuit of big dreams and small to-dos.
The other day, for instance, I told my dad that a National Public Radio editor is considering an essay of mine and has requested audio samples — something I’m a tad short on. Dad didn’t miss a beat, recalling a few 10-minute segments I did five years ago. “You’ve got radio experience! Did you tell him about those Relevant Radio interviews?”
His confidence gave me the strength to press the send key on the e-mail I’d pieced together, to take the risk and make the leap.
Dad is also there to classify failures as flukes. “You just had an off day,” he said last month, after a softball game filled with strike-outs.
He pulled me out of my rut with batting practice. “You were watching the ball,” he said between pitches, “but you weren’t focusing on it.” After a few more whiffs, I put bat on ball. Then I made smoother strokes. The next game, I was back.
My mom also has cheered me along. She was there to listen to every story I wrote as a girl. Where there were heavy adverbs and too many participial phrases, Mom heard a burgeoning vocabulary and a creative mind. She listened to my clarinet, sipping her tea and trusting that “Three Blind Mice” would one day turn into Mozart. She believed scales would be followed by symphonies and flat notes would slide into tune, that Dr. Seuss would lead to Shakespeare, Little League to varsity, and tantrums to temperance.
She knew what practice could do, what braces could do, what a good night’s sleep could do, what time could do, and ultimately, what God could do.
This month’s readings illustrate the transformative power of God’s love, a God who counted each hair on our heads, the God who restored vision to the blind man, the God for whom “all things are possible.”
We never really outgrow the desire for gold stars and blue ribbons. The rallying cries of our cheerleaders mean even more in young adulthood, when doubts can be darker and more persistent. It is a novel juncture: We are old enough to recognize and appreciate their support, and we’re old enough to become cheerleaders to others, including our parents, blossoming into vibrant grandparents and active retirees.
When we demonstrate our belief in friends and relatives, classmates and colleagues, we invite them into a clearer sense of self, a picture that is closer to the way God sees them: cherished, resilient, whole.
How blessed we are by the ones who love us as sinners and believe in us as saints.