Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Little Bit of Inspiration

When we walk around campus we are bombarded by advirtisements for this event and that event. Depending on your interest you can see a foreign film, discuss the evils of men at feminist coffee hour, or play a friendly game of RISK. I occasionally spread myself too thin by adding event after event to my planner, which I just bought at 83% discount last week. However it is rare to stumble upon an event that is truly inspiring, amazing, enjoyable or worthwhile. Saving the planet is a noble goal, but it doesn't touch a certain chord of humanity that burns within us. Tonight, though I literally had 10 things listed to do tonight in addition to homework, there was one event that I made a concerted effort to attend. And it was well worth it.

Among the many posters scattered across the halls of O'Shaughnessy was one black and white flyer for a performance by Brittany Maier at the Annenburg Auditorium. Brittany is an 18-year old piano savant. She can play every song that she has ever heard. When she was six years old she taught herself Schubert's Ave Maria three days after her father bought a CD with the song on it. She learned the Notre Dame Fight Song on stage listening to an audience member whistle. At the age of ten she studied in the School of Music at the University of South Carolina and has composed two original albums. She has been featured on CNN and Dateline NBC. The teen prodigy from South Carolina was recently signed by Sid Bernstein, the producer who brought The Beatles to America, and she will play her first concert in Manhattan this spring. Brittany Maier is blind. And autistic. She was born four months premature and weighed one and a half pounds. After six months in the hospital she succeed in the face of a 5% chance to live.

Brittany only plays with six fingers; she doesn't use her thumbs or pinkies. She doesn't have to. She spends on average twelve hours a day playing piano, mostly pop music which is her favorite. She sang aloud to Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" and Billy Joel's "Piano Man" before delivering a perfect rendition of The Beatles' "Yesterday." She appeased the crowd with numbers from "Wicked" and Sir Elton John. Brittany has been called the best female pianist of our time. She is a real life Rainman and so much more.

Several Rover staff members, myself included, have siblings with special disabilities. For many of us, whether we know someone with special needs or not, it is easy to forget what persons with disabilities can contribute to society. Not every person has a once-in-a-generation talent like Brittany, but we are all people and we share a commune humanity with those who are like us and those who are not like us. Former Notre Dame Professor, spiritual luminary and vagabond priest Henri Nouwen finally found peace when he became the pastor of the L'Arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Living among those with disabilities, who so openly and honestly displayed their love and their fear, their belief and uncertainty, eased Nouwen's personal pain and allowed him to become one of the most important spiritual writers of the last 50 years. All people have this capacity for inspiration and comfort.

Brittany's ability is a "gift from God," a unique "musical miracle" that should be enjoyed and appreciated by all. At the same time, we should pay head to the less amazing but equally as important and significant abilities of all peoples with disabilities, they too are children of God. Brittany is showing the world what amazing things a person with disabilities can accomplish. There are many more like her who are equally as deserving of our love and admiration. Notre Dame is fortune to be able to support this wonderful young woman in her quest to share God's gift with the world.

Brittany, her mother Tammy and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg


MaryKD said...

This really is greatly inspirational to read. As a pianist (though nowhere close to savant-like talent), it is so amazing to hear about people like Brittany. I think that it is so fanastic to watch and experience the thriving lives of those people who society does tend to forget. Their simplicity and sincerity is beautiful.
I was also intriqued to read your comment that sevral Rover staff members have siblings with disabilities - having such a sibliing myself, I would love to talk to the others about their sibings and their experiences.

Anonymous said...

When is this concert? or has it already passed?

Ben said...

I'm sorry I missed it. As you say, there's always too much going on...

Spidey said...

Our youngest child has Down syndrome. He will certainly have his struggles but he always has a smile waiting for me when I walk in the door at night.

Thanks for sharing this story.