The Miracle is You

The Miracle is You
Carter Delloro, Marymount School of New York

I am a father to a toddler. And like many parents of toddlers, at some point in the last eight months or so, I was introduced to the new Disney film, Encanto. Repeatedly. Our household is currently averaging one viewing of Encanto per day. Every car ride features at least some of the soundtrack. So I’ve had a lot of time to mull over the themes that Lin-Manuel Miranda and his co-creators were addressing in their film.

Whenever I think about Encanto, and especially its songs, I can’t help but think about my students. While the whole world knows the smash hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” (which my wife and I have fashioned into a nifty duet for our bedtime routine), the songs that hit home emotionally for me are the ones that immediately precede and follow that hit. Just a fair warning: light spoilers lie ahead.

“Surface Pressure” lets us into the mind of Luisa, a young woman gifted with superstrength. The first eight lines of the song read like a college essay, extolling her literal and figurative strengths. Quickly, though, the listener understands the toll this takes. In an eventual chorus, Luisa confides her existential crisis, “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” 

How many times have we seen this as college counselors? Students, at first voluntarily and then gradually involuntarily, sign up for the pressure that they think they can handle. They shoulder the burdens of their family, friends, and community and mistake them for their own. They succumb to the steady drip, drip, drip of a pressure that never stops. Sometimes they are rewarded with a desired admit letter that offers a temporary respite. More often, they are left trying to figure out the purpose of that pressure and considering themselves failures. The light wind has blown and they try to stop their dominoes from tumbling but on and on they go. That was a reference to the song lyrics. You really should listen to it closely, if you haven’t yet.

In the bridge of “Surface Pressure,” Luisa wonders if she might have time for “joy or relaxation or simple pleasure” if she “could shake the crushing weight of expectations.” A little while ago, I had a student who, despite numerous extracurriculars, couldn’t think of anything she did for fun. No free time for hobbies, to say nothing of relaxation. And for what? Our achievement-oriented culture is robbing many of our kids of the opportunity for joy and instead gifting them a heavy, unshakable pressure.

The other song that resonates with me is “What Else Can I Do,” where Luisa’s sister, Isabela, realizes that her power (making flowers appear out of thin air, defying the law of conservation of mass) has not been fully explored. Her community tacitly forced her to use her skill set for one thing - growing flowers - because that is what that community valued. In a fit of rage, though, Isabela accidentally creates a cactus that happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to Mickey Mouse. She is stunned, and eventually overjoyed, at this facet of her ability that she has never known. She had only done what others expected of her, but she realized that she is so much more powerful and that those expectations were ultimately limitations. In the song, she asks, “What could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect? It just needed to be?” How many of our students are burying the true extent of their capabilities because they feel they must take certain AP classes or need to demonstrate their commitment to the club they happened to join in ninth grade? What are we losing as a society when our students’ special powers remain unexplored and what are our students losing in terms of their own self-actualization?

Okay, major spoilers now. Encanto has a happy ending. It’s a Disney movie, after all. Luisa and Isabela’s abuela, Abuela, realizes the role she has played in prioritizing her grandchildren’s abilities over their mental health and wellness. In “All of You,” she sings, “the miracle is not / some magic that you’ve got / the miracle is you.” Our students, our children, are not defined by their college admissions outcomes. They are not defined by their perfection, and once we as adults come to see that perfection as a symptom of what could be missing, our schools, our communities, our families and our students will all have a shot at truly maximizing their potential for success and happiness. Each of us just needs to be.

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Comments on "The Miracle is You"

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David Brunk - Thursday, August 18, 2022

Well done, Carter! While society plays a necessarily important role in shaping who we are, it is frustrating when people feel pressure to conform to society rather than show society who they really are.

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