Earlier this month I was one of millions of people who watched Louisa Johnson win the X-Factor.
I found myself watching despite the antipathy I feel towards these TV shows, with their brash noisiness and their wholesale promotion of a culture that says one person can live the dream while millions of others across the world struggle for the basic necessities in life. Louisa seems like a genuinely lovely girl and has the gift of that amazing voice, so I found myself rooting for her in spite of the infectious pleasures of Reggie ‘N’ Bollie and their particular brand of joy. Joy is in short supply these days, and it was a big bonus of the show this year to see the bouncy spreading of happiness by this irrepressible duo.
After I had switched the television off and gone upstairs to bed, it all felt a bit surreal. It is easy to get caught up in the noise and hype of the production and the excitement of the results. I was lying in bed, re-centering – focusing on peace again. But somewhere out there was a seventeen-year-old girl, still under the spotlights, being shepherded and mentored already towards the glittering career that she will no doubt have. I couldn’t get Louisa out of my mind.
The whole scenario felt particularly poignant because of my recent concern about the Quaker testimony of Simplicity. About not owning or using more of the earth’s resources than we need. Shows like the X-Factor, and celebrity status in general, produce some of the most skewed and unjust distributions of wealth the world has ever seen. But that is a big burden to sit on the shoulders of a young girl who simply has a dream. Louisa’s life will never be what it would have been if she hadn’t entered the competition. Her course is set, and it will be who she is, as an individual human being, that shapes the type of future and impact that she has.
I thought: If I had to write a letter to Louisa, what would I say?
I look back after fifty five years of life and there are many things I wished I had known earlier; things I would like to tell my younger self. But wisdom and insight cannot be forced or imparted simply by writing things down and handing this to someone else. It is lived experience relevant to your own life and spiritual growth, and comes at its own pace and time. How can you say to a seventeen-year-old girl who is about to get the stardom she dreamt of, that possessions and wealth and fame are not the things that matter in life? Part of me wanted to freeze-frame and capture the gentle innocence of Louisa’s expression as she took in, with a degree of amazement, what was happening to her.
So there I was, lying in bed, upholding Louisa in my heart. I wished her peace and strength, the time and insight to remain herself amongst all the pressures and the highs and lows of her chosen profession, but mainly I just held her in God’s light – wanting her to feel the incredible nourishment that is there if only you open your mind to it.
Thinking about this now, I have to remind myself that Louisa is also someone who, through her own hard work and self-belief, has made and taken-up this opportunity – that it is good to see her take joy in it. New year is a time when we tend to look back at what has gone, and also think about our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. They may be dreams of making the world a more peaceful or equitable place – or, indeed, of winning the X-Factor – but unless we open our hearts to the possibilities and people around us; unless we act when we are given the opportunity to do so; then they will never come any nearer to being reality.
Singing with my choir at our Christmas concert for family and friends with purple hair to match our purple and black outfits.
Simple ivy and lights, and the joy of going out in the dark streets during the Christmas season. Looking forward into the mystery of the coming year…
© Anne de Gruchy