While searching YouTube for something, and I honestly dont remember
I stumbled across the 2008 version of Frances incarnation of the Got
Talent franchise. Of course, they call theirs Incroyable Talent.
There, I met a beautiful 12-year-old named Caroline Costa. A giggly little
girl, it turned out she had a stage presence and voice equal to any
current mega-star. You knew within the first couple of seconds of her
audition she was something out of the ordinary.
We love those moments of unexpected exceptionalism that temporarily take
our breath away, catch in our throat and leave us shaking our heads in
dumb wonder. We look at each other to make sure were not the only one so
Actually, the Got Talent franchise has produced more than one of them.
There was American Jackie Evancho, the 11-year-old opera singer with the
bubbly personality and perfect voice. And, the British version gave us the
now legendary Susan Boyle, who looked and acted like someone least likely
to succeed until she started singing and peoples hearts momentarily
Sports is a fertile field for both the unexpected and the exceptional.
In the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, American Bob Beamon was
expected to win the gold medal in the long jump, an event in which world
records are typically broken by an inch or less. Nobody expected what
On his first attempt, in perfect conditions, Beamon nearly jumped beyond
the landing pit. In fact, he did out-jump the optical device used to
measure distance so they had to do it the old-fashioned way with a tape
measure. Minutes ticked away as Beamon nervously paced. When the
distance was finally posted metrically, not everyone, including Beamon,
understood what it meant. When a teammate finally told him, he crumpled to
the ground, unable to comprehend what he had just done. No wonder. Beamon
had broken the world record by a stupefying 21 3⁄4 inches. His new
record stood for more than two decades and is still the Olympic record, 43
Sometimes it isnt even a human being that generates that feeling.
In 1973, the great Secretariat was on his way to winning the Triple Crown
with only the final leg, the Belmont Stakes, remaining. He had already
set records in winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Though no
horse race is ever a sure thing, bettors had made Secretariat a
ridiculous 1 to 10 favorite.
The race itself was competitive for awhile but Secretariat began surging
ahead on the backstretch and it appeared he was extending that lead with
every stride. Chick Anderson, who called the race that day, famously said
Secretariat was ... moving like a tremendous machine.... As the horses,
or at least one horse, rounded the final turn and headed for Belmont
Parks long home stretch, the roaring crowd quieted for just a bit as if
preparing for this incredible thing they were about to witness.
Something incredible is exactly what they did witness. Secretariat won by
a preposterous 31 lengths more than a football field in a time that is
still the world record for a mile and half distance on a dirt track.
Such a moment can also be sent our way by someone completely anonymous.
In 1989, protesters in China gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing
demanding greater freedom. The Chinese government crushed their
mini-revolt with tanks and live ammunition.
There was, however, a completely unexpected and completely exceptional
moment. As tanks rumbled down the street, one man simply walked out and
stood in front of the lead tank. However that tank moved to get around
him, he moved in front of it.
Bystanders or secret police, depending on which version you believe,
finally dragged him out of the street. Some say he was later executed,
others that he was imprisoned and, still others, that he was never
identified or punished. Whatever the case, his boldness was breathtaking.
These moments most certainly happen in other, less publicized fields, too.
The educators breakthrough when the lightbulb finally goes off in a
students head; the scientists astonishing discovery. That the media
doesnt cover them and we dont see them doesnt mean they dont happen.
One field in which those moments no longer happen is politics. When is
the last time anyone from either party surprised us by doing something so
unexpected it transcended partisanship?
Our country is wallowing in debt, unemployment seems stuck at an
unacceptable 9%, were at war on three fronts and our politicians have
decided the solution is to see who is best at demeaning their opponent.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has provided us with
the best example of what we dont need. His top priority is not the
deficit or the war on terrorism or unemployment or anything that could
pass for an actual issue. No, as hes said many times, his top priority is
making sure Obama is not re-elected.
Well, thanks very much, Mitch. That should make for an interesting 17
months of accomplishing absolutely nothing.
Its not as if the Democrats, whose spines and platform have apparently
drifted out to sea never to be seen again, are any better.
What we need is one of those moments. What we need is for President Obama
and Speaker of the House Boehner to step forward, together, and
acknowledge that fixing the damned budget mess and generating some jobs is
more important than anyones election.
We need Democrats to admit the problem cannot be fixed just by raising
taxes on the rich and the GOP to admit it cant be fixed just by slashing
away at programs for the poor and sick. And both have to get serious
about reforming Medicare and Social Security in a way that protects
recipients and improves the bottom line rather than their chances in the
That would be unexpected. And exceptional.