I’m on the subway, on the way to this concert, going through my usual litany of thoughts that I experience on such occasions: I am going to a concert. It will likely be an excellent concert. I will enjoy myself and go home. Nothing unusual will happen.
Except this darn prompting.
Me: Okay, Heavenly Father, level with me. What’s going on here? Am I meant to do anything?
HF: When something is going to happen, you will know.
Me: Ohhh no, no, no, HF. That’s what everyone told me about going into labor, and guess what? I didn’t know!
HF (quietly, as always): … but you did know, right? When the time came, you knew. It was all the false starts before that confused you.
Me: Wait. Are you comparing me meeting Brandon Flowers to a Braxton Hicks contraction? Does that mean I’ll meet him again later? Is this a larger metaphor for life and following the Holy Spirit? DON’T STOP TALKING NOW.
HF: Whether or not this man is your friend, he is your brother.
The implication here is that we are all brothers and sisters, children of one loving Father. The chances of a successful rockstar being humble and down to earth are so slim that you can’t even thread a needle through it. This should neither surprise nor alarm me. We all have our paths to follow, our talents to hone in the purpose of uplifting each other. And whether he ever knows it or not, Brandon has provided that service for me. We all pay for those talents with our shortcomings, and just because he has a different mix of talents and shortcomings than I, it in no way makes me a better or worse person. Just different. He’s doing his thing, I’m doing mine.
So I walk around the backside of the building, sandwiched between warehouses and car dealerships. I try not to look at the guys sitting outside the stage door– play it cool, you know. I am not some desperate super fan waiting to lick the heels of Brandon’s shoes. I am, as the Blues Brothers would say, “on a mission from God” (tongue very much in cheek). Still, they seem like they’re waiting for me to ask them to come backstage.
I don’t. I enter the concert through the front. It becomes clear that I am early and without occupation. I think I should try the stage door, but the ushers do not let anyone exit.
The concert itself is incredible. In a blaze of flashing lights and smoke, Brandon Flowers appears, respelendent in his gold-lamé, cheetah print jacket and his winning smile. He leaps onto a speaker, mike in hand and belts out that wonderful music I know and love. It’s not my usual jaunt, this thick fog of glamour and pop. I prefer my art grittier, closer, stripped bare so that you can actually feel the timbre of a man’s voice instead of the more common pounding in the heart and throbbing in the ears, courtesy of the oversized speakers. Still, amazing. At the end of the show he performs one of my favorite songs, “Only the Young” and the disco ball on the ceiling pierces the room with shafts of soft, white light, refracts into tiny shards that chase each other around the venue. I am satisfied. I can go home. I can wake up tomorrow like another regular day, and work on my book some more.
… or I can see what I can see around back. At Broadway shows, the stars come out at the stage doors. Do they do that at mainstream pop shows?
There’s a gaggle of fans out back. Apparently, they do. But there are quite a few people. Even if he did come out, he wouldn’t see me. There’d be no point. I consider leaving to get some sleep– I have to wrangle with my daughter in the morning– but decide to stay.
Brandon finally comes out and it turns out that I’m waiting in the wrong spot. His manager is telling everyone to get in a single file line against the truck, that Brandon will get to everyone, so have your cameras and T-shirts ready so that he can sign, take a picture, and send you on your way.
I want none of that. I want only to talk to him, to connect, but they’re not letting anyone speak to him. I’m at the end of a long line. I should go home. I’m exhausted. I have to get up at six and its already midnight. This is stupid. Why am I doing this?
Brandon cranes his head around the truck, eagerly looking for the end of the line.
“Is that everyone?”
I stumble forward.
“Hi. Your music has meant a lot to me. Do you have a minute for me to tell you about it?”
He laughs awkwardly, gestures at the police rail, barricading him against the head of the truck, separating us.
“It’s not a trick question,” I add. I can leave, if you want. Obviously you want. I should leave.
“I mean, you can talk to me here while I’m doing this…”
Great. Great start. He thinks I’m some freak that wants to get him alone. Would he treat me differently if I had dressed how I normally do? On a good day, with the right dress and shoes, the right makeup, I can make myself look noticeable, at least. Tonight, at very specific promptings, I am dressed in completely nondescript fashion, plain T shirt and jeans, despite the sweltering heat. My hair hasn’t met with a brush in three days. I’m caked with sweat. On a scale of Breathtaking to Homeless, I’m at Breathtaking for the Wrong Reasons. I already look like I’m 12 and because I didn’t bring my ID, I have these black Xs on my hands misleadingly marking me as “under 21,” though I doubt he notices that much. I start telling him about “Smile Like You Mean It” and how it supported me after my first suicide attempt. His handsome eyes glaze over, flit back and forth.
“Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh.”
It occurs to me that the song is named “Smile Like You Mean It,” it was a hit pop song, and it came out in 2004. He has heard this story 5,000 times before. I don’t think I’d ever get jaded hearing about someone’s pain, but then he is not me, and he has had a long, long night.
I am simultaneously impressed with myself for not being impressed by Brandon Flowers, looks, fame and all. Just a guy.
…A truly exhausted guy who has no interest in being here. I get to the part about my daughter having colic and peter off. I’ve been talking for about 30 seconds.
“You seem tired,” I observe. I should leave the poor guy alone.
“No, no! I’m listening!”
Oddly defensive about something he doesn’t want to be doing. Maybe he thinks I’m criticizing him. But I guess I have to finish the story now. I conclude in another 30 seconds, saying far less than I would have liked, but making the right call.
“So is your husband a member of the church yet?” He asks.
So he was actually listening somewhat. Nice of him to respond.
“No, he’s not,” I reply. Should I say more? About how Brandon helped me not pressure him? No. He’s tired. Let the guy go.
“He will be,” Brandon assures me. “Just wait. The church has a funny way of doing that to people.”
I smile and back away.
“Hey, did you not want a picture?” calls out the bewildered Brandon.
“No, I don’t,” I say, still smiling. “That was all I wanted.”
Was it though? I’m not referring to the picture, either. I turn away with a sinking feeling in my stomach and this line from Metric playing through my head:
They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes
When they bowed at their feet, in the end it wasn’t me
And this line of scripture: Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
As I’m leaving, one of arena employees stops me.
“So you didn’t get to go backstage?”
I shake my head in confusion. I don’t know this guy. How does he know that was what I wanted? He couldn’t recognize me from anywhere. I don’t recognize him.
“Oh, that’s too bad. You should have asked me. I could have gotten you backstage for the whole show. People think you have to wait until the end to meet him, but you don’t.”
I wait for the hook, but there is none. He doesn’t hit on me, doesn’t ask for my number, just tells me that I should have asked and then sends me on my way.
Well, what the hell was that, Heavenly Father? I guess I was supposed to ask.
In the end, every prompting of mine came to pass. I was told I’d meet Brandon Flowers and I did. I was told I’d learn something. What did I learn? However strange and unlikely the promptings I receive, I will follow them, faithfully and without shame.
It’s still possible that I could have concocted this entire scenario in my head. I think this is something that religious people are not given much credit for: wondering if something truly is from God, or if its just made up. This is one of the most difficult, most important aspects of my life as a person seeking righteousness. I think about it constantly. Heck, I could be totally wrong that God even exists. Though I have my personal reasons for believing he does, the prospect of being wrong does not startle me.
Here’s why: even if I made all of this up, what was the horrible end result? I drew uncommon spiritual strength from remarkable music and, for a brief moment, turned into a fangirl. So what? What do I have to be ashamed of? The fact that music enriches me? The fact that I bored a celebrity out of one minute he’ll never get back? He’ll live. And if not, maybe I’ll enlist and go bore ISIS to death with the details of my numbingly average existence. When I follow promptings, at worst I feel momentary embarrassment. At best, I find an incredible husband, enduring friendships, and a wonderful school for my daughter. I found excuses to be embarrassed before I believed in God, too. I’ll take those odds.
Something else I learned: I am such an unusual person that, on some level, I expect extraordinary things to always be happening to me. I know it’s irrational. I know it’s juvenile. But in my life, it has precendence! Remember I told you about my last celebrity encounter? It would have been easy for me if Brandon had felt some instant emotional bond with me, or if he turned out to be a complete jackass. Both extremes would have been sensational, but instead, we end up with an average rockstar to fan encounter. Vanilla. Bland. Been done before.
This is all okay. It may make for a slightly less interesting story, but I have no need to use Brandon Flowers in that way, to turn him into conversation fodder at a cocktail party. I don’t even drink. I wasn’t originally planning on sharing this experience with anyone besides my husband until, again, I felt prompted to.
Point being, I don’t need to put that kind of pressure on myself or my life. This is Heavenly Father hollering back at me (he never actually hollers): YES. SEE? I DO understand the difference between your life and a crappy sitcom. Now live through some average experiences for a bit and see how you like it.
Because I am the extraordinary part of my life– for reasons far beyond chance celebrity encounters. I am remarkable in my ability to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit, and my tenacity to hone that gift no matter how many people point and laugh along the way. The sequel to my memoir may be far less exciting, and that is extraordinary. It’s a testament to how much I have mellowed out as a woman and a human. I no longer need to create the kind of drama that makes for an interesting book chapter. I will continue to draw spiritual strength from Brandon’s music even though, to him, I am so unremarkable that he will never think of me again in his life.
That is so cool! That means I have character. It sounds like a silly thing, but for me it’s huge. I don’t need someone to like me in order for me to appreciate them. I believe in Brandon and I believe in his music, no matter how tired he was on Wednesday night.
And if all of this is made up, then I’ve just wasted two days talking myself into a greater level of humility and understanding. I still think I won.