By Theresa Blume
By the time you read this, the fair will be over, but one particular experience will stay with me for many fair seasons.
I had the opportunity to attend the Ronnie Milsap concert, along with a packed audience on Saturday night. He is one of my favorite country singers, and it was thrilling to hear him belt out the tunes I’ve loved for years.
One of the advantages of live concerts is the level of intimacy between the stage and audience. After a lifetime of over 40 top-of-the-chart hits, Milsap sounded reminiscent that night. I could sense it, even from the out-of-camera distance where I was sitting. It may have been the same words he shares every performance, but I was grateful to hear him talk so personally for the first time.
Millsap is blind, but to hear his music, you would never realize it. Being hearing impaired myself, I feel a kinship with him, so I was inspired to hear the story he told. It went something like this:
When I was six I learned to read Braille. At seven I learned to play violin. When I was eight I learned to play the piano. I told my teachers I wanted to be a professional musician. But they told me I could never be something like that. They discouraged me from such dreams. When I was a little older I got a chance to talk to Ray Charles in person in his dressing room. I told him I wanted to be a professional musician, but my teachers said I couldn’t. He told me to play something, so I did and he said, ‘It sounds like you have a heart for this, and I think you could be a professional musician if that’s what you want.’ So I went back to my teachers and told them that Ray Charles said I could be a professional musician. They said, ‘Well, if he said it, then you should be!’
It’s amazing how fast people can change their minds when someone with money and status says something! That’s a whole other story, but in this instance, Ray Charles was right on target by encouraging a young Milsap to make his dream a reality. I can’t imagine a world without his awesome contributions. I wonder how many teachers or authority figures are telling impressionable minds not to follow their dreams just because they are blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled.
Milsap has to have someone lead him on stage for every performance. Can you imagine the courage it takes to be that vulnerable in public? Stage fright is one of the most common public fears even for people with normal eyesight!
There are stories saturating our world with disabled people doing extraordinary things. But there are many more untold stories of disabled people afraid to try because they were discouraged, or worse, no one encouraged them. I appreciate the handicap signs and wheelchair accommodations, but we have a long way to go.
Most of us know at least one person with a disability. Ask them what it is like to live in their world for a day. Be aware that wherever you go, there are people with all manner of disabilities, some you can’t even see, in the shadows needing your assistance, encouragement, and support. Be the one to step up and lead them on stage!