Before the concert began, the man beside me said that the last time he had seen Sade in concert he thought it was the best concert of his life. He hoped tonight would rival that night over ten years before. His comments ramped up my excitement at seeing her live, but I was not prepared for the artistry, architectural scope, and precision of the concert itself. I never had experienced the live performance of a singer with such distance from the audience—in that it was neither chatty nor colloquial—however the music had no distance at all. The music was the vehicle for a profound emotional journey of light, sound, image, dance, camaraderie (she and her band are in full bloom as a symbiont creature) and story. And then, and only then, appears her exquisite voice.
I was unprepared, and she blew me away.
I have looked at different clips of her performing on YouTube, and I have heard her say in other stadiums and music halls the same thing she said after her first song to the Louisville audience. Her saying it over and over again does not make it any less true, and if anything I found it to be the exact perfect thing for an introverted perfectionist (my take, maybe not true) to say. As soon as she said it, I sat up. My whole being reverberated with its truth and insight. I went “Oh yes!” deep within my belly and knew my course had changed.
It is not that it is particularly pithy or colorful. It is not that the gods shook their heads in agreement, or for that matter, that anyone else even took notice of it. The truth it contained: simple. It was obvious, but I had not considered it before. I had not considered all the ways in which my past had delivered me to this moment receptive to hear it. I had not given proper credit to my own learning before she uttered it, and in fact had diminished all of my own preparation because of how woefully ill-prepared I often feel in the face of the deep and intimate pain total strangers share with me daily as a hospital chaplain.
But she spoke the truth. She spoke the truth and I heard her and I was changed.
“Thank you for coming tonight. We, the band and I, have been preparing our whole lives for tonight with you.”
For me this is excellence. To acknowledge that every single moment prepared me for the here and now. To thank the pain, the sweat, the tears, the joy, the hurdles, the victories, the sweetness, the bitter. To see myself delivered to this singular moment so as to do my level best—whatever that turns out to be. No apology. No regret. Just presence and preparation. Excellence, personified.