It was one of those tear-jerker moments I caught while absently channel surfing and landing on America's Got Talent. A young woman, who was very thin and seemed to have a serious illness, stood before the judges to sing. Despite her sickly physical appearance, she had a remarkably radiant face lit by a generous smile and big bright eyes that belied any suffering. Her stage name was Nightbirde.
When asked what she did for a living, she asserted that she was focused on battling cancer. The judges murmured "I'm so sorry" and Nightbirde said "it's ok." Then she sang, and her voice and lyrics were very beautiful, genuine. But it is what she said just before singing that stayed with me. The judges questioned if she was alright now after her cancer treatment and Nighbirde said that she still had cancer in her lungs and spine, and one of the judges said, "then you're not ok." Nightbirde responded: "well, not in every way, no."
Not in EVERY way. Nightbirde told the judges, and the world, that she was not just the bad things that happened to her. Pain and suffering can easily obscure everything else that makes up our reality, but they are almost always only a part of our experience. We engage in mental filtering -- sifting through our life conditions, overlooking what is positive or just ok, and holding onto what hurts. When we feel only our pain, acknowledge only what is not ok, we suffer. Nightbirde understood that she had more than her cancer, and that is what she showed up with.
Life throws some serious hard balls. No one gets away without pain, but suffering, says the Dalai Lama, is a choice. That may seem harsh as we cannot simply brush pain away, choose to ignore or negate it, and we certainly do not want to feel at fault for our own suffering. What Nightbirde seemed to grasp, though, was that we do not have to become helpless victims of our circumstances, however trying they might be. We do have choice. We have the power to direct our attention to also what is whole, good, or just ok. The song she sang for the judges was aptly titled It's OK.
Following her performance, Nightbirde said: "You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy." Life is likely to keep being hard. And wonderful. And challenging. And rewarding. Nightbirde wasted no time in deciding to be happy with what was ok.
Nightbirde died in February 2022 at age 31, succumbing to a four-year battle with cancer, but not to a darkening of everything else she was. She did not surrender her spirit, or what was bright about her. And she certainly did not yield her choice in when to be happy. She chose it then, while she lived, in spite of hardship. I think she would say it was ok. Maybe more than ok.