I took my daughters to Kinky Boots at the Hollywood Bowl the other night.
It was the first time we had been there in two and a half years.
The weather was glorious and it was exhilarating to be in a gorgeous open air venue on a cool summer evening, waiting to see one of our favorite musicals of all times.
Life felt a little more open and hopeful.
Musicals have played an enormous role in my life; we are all Broadway nerds, bordering on Broadway snobs.
When I moved to LA, this was a major challenge. I had two choices; wait till I was in NY to satisfy my theater hunger or go to the shows in LA, and do my best to resist the urge to compare and likely criticize.
These years without theater have been suffocating. When you’ve been in the desert for a long time and there’s a spring of water close by, its deliciousness is not called into question. Kinky Boots in LA was exactly what I needed.
The music began and the cast come out onto the stage for the opening number. We were transported.
The story is about an unlikely friendship between Charlie, the new owner of his family’s shoe factory and Lola, a drag queen who convinces Charlie to make shoes for the drag queen niche. Initially, the two seem to have little to nothing in common until we learn that they both suffer the pain of having disappointed their fathers.
The show is about learning that we have more in common with each another than we think and that when we embrace our differences we are more able to access that sense of belonging we all yearn for.
When the finale began, it was impossible to stay seated. We were standing up, singing along and welcoming in joy, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Just the title of the song, Raise You Up, brings tears to my eyes. The two men really do learn to be there for one another.
“Feed your fire, to take you higher
We’ll light you up like a live wire
Celebrate you, to elevate you
When you struggle to stand, we’ll take a helping hand
If you hit the dust
Let me raise you up
When your bubble bursts
Let me raise you up
If your glitter rusts
Let me raise you up..”
The music is intoxicating, the dancing is dazzling and the message is exactly what is required in this moment in time.
We are reminded that nothing is more important than learning to accept ourselves.
Who you wanna be
Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be
Celebrate yourself triumphantly
What if we really could celebrate ourselves triumphantly?
What would that look like for you?
What’s in the way?
What do you tell yourself that makes it so hard to imagine that?
Conventional wisdom tells us we have to love ourselves, to accept ourselves before we can love and accept someone else.
I offer a different view.
Sometimes when we encourage someone else to step into their own power, when we watch someone transform into the truest version of themselves, we are inspired to walk the same road, to open ourselves up, to let go of all the excuses stopping us from being really ourselves.
When the bullying, macho, homophobic guy from the shoe factory loses a bet with Lola, he is challenged to do one thing: accept one person for who they are. As he learns to do so, he is transformed and becomes a happier version of himself..
I see love and acceptance as circular.
Begin with a small snowball of love, whether for yourself or for another and see what happens as it gently rolls down the hill, becoming bigger and bigger, becoming a boulder of deep love.
Love begets love.
Self-acceptance is also the theme of Viola Davis’ riveting memoir Finding Me.
I was both horrified and inspired as I listened to her fierce, compelling story of poverty, racism, sexual and physical abuse, and ultimately of forgiveness, love and acceptance. It’s a winning combination of rawness, honesty and strength.
Viola shares about how she spent much of her life “hiding” her 9 year old self who was bullied, shamed and forced to experience a succession of brutal challenges. She “overcame” her past by fighting hard, working hard, and trying too hard to be what other people wanted her to be.
She had a day of reckoning in a therapists office when he had her “make friends” with that 9 year old version of herself and by doing so, acknowledge that she is a big part of who she is now and that in addition to healing her, Viola needed to also thank her for her strength and resilience in helping her get to where she is.
I often do a similar exercise, called the Inner Child meditation with clients, where I lead them to a safe, quiet place where they can communicate with their 8 year old self and listen to what they want to say and then hug them and tell them that they are loved. It is powerful and liberating.
We learn that ALL our past selves are part of our present selves and they all deserve to be acknowledged and embraced.
When we stop trying to hide who we were, or anything about us, we can really become who we really are.
That’s what the characters in Kinky Boots learned.
Viola shares this lesson with all of us:
The imperfect but blessed sculpture that is Viola is still growing and still being chiseled. My elixir? I’m no longer ashamed of me. I own everything that has ever happened to me. The parts that were a source of shame are actually my warrior fuel. I see people—the way they walk, talk, laugh, and grieve, and their silence—in a way that is hyperfocused because of my past. I’m an artist because there’s no separation from me and every human being that has passed through the world including my mom. I have a great deal of compassion for other people, but mostly for myself. That would not be the case if I did not reconcile that little eight-year-old girl and FIND ME.
Our job is to do just that- own it all; what happened to us, who we tried to be or not be, our unattractive traits, our worst decisions, our struggles and all of what we secreted away for fear that exposure would do great harm.
As the poet Yung Pueblo confirms:
Is doing the work
we need to do to be free.
So we are left to live our lives out of the shadows, to become free. How do we do it?
Perhaps we start by following the simple, yet brilliant six step program espoused not in an ancient text but in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots!
Pursue the truth
Learn something new
Accept yourself and you’ll accept others too
Let love shine
Let pride be your guide
Change the world when you change your mind
Listen to the song; dance to it, let it wash over you and feel its power.
And then Just Be You.
No-one else can be…
With Love and Light, Nora