A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


As dramatic lines go, it wasn't exactly memorable.

I mean, it wasn't "To be or not to be."

Heck, it wasn't even, "Lucy, you got some ‘splainin' to do."

It was, in fact, the simplest of lines, consisting of only two words. But when Brent delivered those two words on stage during the junior high school musical the other night, it brought smiles to the faces of everyone who knew him – not to mention a tear to an eye or two.

That Brent even decided to try out for the musical was something of a shock to his parents. Tall and handsome, with a terrific smile and a strong charismatic quality, one would think Brent would be a natural for the stage. But Brent is deaf, and most people would assume that being able to hear lines and cues and music would be pretty essential for someone thinking about trying out for the school musical.

At least, Brent's parents did. So when he came home from school one day and told them that not only had he auditioned for the musical, but that he had also earned a spot as one of a group of featured dancers – and that he would have a line – they were surprised.

And pleased.

And nervous.

"He has always been willing to try new things, and we've always encouraged him to do so," his Dad told me on closing night. "But this . . . I never would have predicted this."

The musical was set in America's "roaring twenties," and Brent Charleston-ed with the best of the dancers on stage that night. That didn't really surprise me – I knew him to be an outstanding athlete, and I've always felt that the only difference between an outstanding dancer and an outstanding athlete is that dancers work harder and are in better shape.

I must admit, however, that I was a little surprised at his sense of rhythm, and how precisely he maintained timing with the music on each step and movement. And I was delighted by his efforts to respond facially and physically to what was being said on stage.

Even though he couldn't hear it.

For a long time, it appeared that Brent's character was going to be the strong, silent type. And that was understandable. Although those who know him can understand him pretty well, public speaking is not the thing he does best. Only a very courageous and insightful director would be willing to take such an aesthetic risk in order to give a courageous young man a chance.

Which is why Brent's line sort of snuck up on me. There were three young men on stage at the time, and the first one said something – I don't remember what. Then the second boy said, "Me too!" And then Brent leaned forward, and with a big smile on his face, said, "Me three!"

It was clear, understandable and absolutely wonderful.

I couldn't wait to find Brent after the play to congratulate him on his performance. I found him with a group of his friends from the show. The 9th grade girls were putting on the dark red lipstick from the make-up room and kissing the 9th grade boys on their cheeks. Brent's cheeks had been thus "marked" – several times each – and he was clearly loving life. He was one of the boys. Part of the cast. Nothing special.

And yet special indeed.

And no, that isn't just a line – dramatic or otherwise.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through