When I was a young lad, I used to want to be a garbage man. Don’t really know why, but for some reason riding on the back of a large diesel truck picking up large bags of stinky garbage really appealed to my young brain. I used to watch with a slightly jealous eye as the garbage man would come by my house on a weekly basis.
Looking back on it now, I’m not sure why I never pursued that early boyhood dream. Instead of chasing down bags of garbage, I spent my early years chasing down words and pursuing the arts. We all can’t be garbage men after all.
My wife and I attended the opening night performance of Billy Elliot last night at the Ordway in St. Paul. As I took my seat, I was looking for a little respite from the daily struggles in my life. I was not expecting what happened when the curtain rose.
This show struck a chord that resonated deep within my being. The struggle of blue collar work and the arts playing out on the stage before me. As I writer who wanted to be a garbage man, I could fully relate to young Billy’s struggle between his blue collar roots and his desire to be a dancer.
Society tends to view the arts as simply a past time or hobby. Most artists have heard the words That’s nice, but what are you really going to do a time or two. It is as if a life dedicated to the pursuit of the arts is less of a calling than a calling to the spreadsheets and meetings of the modern business world.
A dancer cannot explain why they need to dance, a writer doesn’t fully grasp why they write, and a singer doesn’t know why a song is placed in their heart. All the artist knows is that the desire to create is seeded deep within them and it yearns to be watered and nurtured. We need to support the arts at all levels so these seeds can be tended. Spreadsheets and equations do not make us human, our art does.
However, we all can’t be artists. Some of us are called to other vocations in life. Billy Elliot captures this theme perfectly. Billy’s older brother touches on this when he says “We can’t all be dancers.” What he says is true, not everyone in the world is called to be an artist, a dancer, or a writer. There are those who are called to be road builders, miners, or accountants. Just as these vocations add value to the world it is important to realize and foster the value the arts bring to the world.
Embrace your calling in life, whether it be to the arts, mining, dancing, or accounting. Whatever you are being called to, embrace and hold it tight. Pursue your vocation fearlessly and when you find what you are good at, jump in with both feet pirouette and take a bow. It is through theaters like the Ordway and through shows such as Bill Elliot that we can realize that a perfectly executed Grand Plie has just as much value to society as a perfectly balanced spreadsheet.