Guest Post: Greg Marshall on The Greatest Showman Being About Misfits and How he is a Misfit

Re-running a post from a friend of mine in Milwaukee about being a misfit. Its inspired from the Hugh Jackman film The Greatest Showman. I hope you enjoy this, it gave me a lot of think about. Thank you Greg Marshall for your passion and story telling ability. 

“You are obligated to understand that you are unique in the world. There has never been anyone like you because, of there were, there would be no need for you to exist. You are an utterly new thing in creation. Your life goal is to realize this uniqueness.”

Aaron Perlow  

  Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Isiah 64:8 NIV 

Milwaukee skyline 

Over dinner I was surfing social media and I saw something from a friend of mine. I read it and like it very much and asked Greg Marshall for permission to re-post it. I’ve known Greg for almost 20 years. When I was a student leader in Campus Crusade at Marquette, he was a student leader across town at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He rapped at the Christmas conference in Minneapolis and also is a teaching pastor He’s been out to D.C. in the past and crashed at my place. He is one of the many reasons why I need to get back to Milwaukee to visit. You can read more about Greg here.  Greg I love your heart, intellect and how you see the world. You are quite a gift. Privileged to call you a friend. Keep up the good storytelling! 

I went to The Greatest Showman for the second time last night. I brought my three oldest daughters (12 yrs, 9 yrs, 7yrs). It’s safe to say I like that movie as much as they do. It’s awakening something in me that I need to talk about. Try to stay with me until the end of my story.

The first time I watched The Greatest Showman, I stayed up late afterward and woke up early the next day to write a concept for a new show. The concept is amazing (imho). And if I don’t produce it someday I’ll be very disappointed.

The second time I watched The Greatest Showman, I walked away wanting to make the life I have more beautiful; Growing deeper relationships and having more fun with the people I’m already close with in the places I already inhabit. I love it when movies inspire me like that.

The Greatest Showman is special to me because it’s about misfits. I’m a misfit. I’ve felt that way my whole life. The existing norms of behavior and thought have always felt awkward to me. That was true in kindergarten as much as it is today in business, entertainment, and spirituality.

My internal identity as a misfit is probably surprising to some people; I know how to act like I’m part of the group, but that doesn’t mean I feel at home. My misfitism developed early in my life. It started with my physical appearance. Early on I was made fun of for my height. I was too short and my hands were too small. As a little kid, I was a little kid, and apparently you’re supposed to be bigger. That’s what I was told by people of all ages: friends, teachers, coaches, strangers. I’ll also never forget sixth grade when a girl in my grade told everyone in the hallway to stop and look at how large my head is in comparison to my body. That experience was burned into my memory. I laugh now when I think about it, but at the time it was pretty devastating. It’s crazy how words can totally transform the way we see ourselves in the mirror.

Another layer of misfitism developed when I realized most of my relatives were good at fixing things, and they actually loved fixing them. I’m amazed at the guys in my family who can tear apart an engine and put it back together like it’s a first language. I wasn’t very good at it, and I didn’t enjoy it. That made me feel like a misfit.

Growing up, my friends were funnier than me. I loved being with them, but I also felt like I had to guard myself and only show slivers of who I am or else I’d be rejected. I’m not sure that would’ve really happened. Probably not. All I know is that I had friends, and I still felt like a misfit.

My sisters and brother were quite a bit older than me and not too excited about inviting me into their worlds. I felt like a misfit.

In college I started exploring philosophy and faith, meeting with Muslim, Jewish, and Christian students. I went to philosophy club and Great Books discussions. My imagination was captured and distracted by big questions about the universe, and I lost friends because of it. It was an awkward and beautiful stage of my life, and at the time I felt strangely alone. I was a misfit.

At the age of twenty, a virus attacked my brain and spinal cord, causing a seizure that almost killed me. I then lost all feeling in my legs. I spent almost a month in the hospital, causing me to miss a semester of college. The day I left the hospital, my neurologist told me I may never walk again. While my friends were kicking off a new year of school, I was learning to use my legs for a second time. I felt other. Disconnected. Things got better and worse.

My legs started working better. One day I’d take five steps. The next day, ten. I’d be exhausted after just a few steps. Then I’d rest on the couch, plucking a guitar, teaching myself to write songs. (Side note: If you really want to learn the guitar, I recommend becoming temporarily paralyzed so that you have nothing else to do but practice.) One day I was invited to a wedding. It was an outdoor wedding, which is a great thing unless your nervous system is broken. My biggest problem at that point wasn’t walking. I could walk pretty well with a cane. My challenge was the fact that I wasn’t able to hold my bladder for very long, and because I was still sort of numb from the waist down, I could wet myself and not even know it.

The wedding was over. So far so good. I was hoping we’d leave right away, because there were no bathrooms nearby. But the family asked if we could all do a group picture before everyone left. I stood in the back of the group, praying my bladder would hold. I smiled. The picture was taken. I looked down and I was wet. My heart sunk far down into my soul and I was hit with a feeling far deeper than embarrassment. I shuffled my way into the woods nearby and called for Rose, the girl who asked me to the wedding. When she came over I asked if we could leave, and pointed to my pants. She said she would say goodbye to everyone and take me home. I couldn’t wait. As soon as she turned around, I took off. I walked, one cane supported step at a time, about two miles along the side of a highway in the ditch, balling my eyes out, covered in urine, all the way to my parents’ house.

Some experiences in life make us feel like a misfit. Others take us to a whole new level. Suffering can do that. Humiliation can too.

Months later I was able to go back to school. My parents helped me move all my stuff into my first studio apartment. I was so excited. The last weekend before school I made one more trip back to my parents’ house to grab a few last things. I was in my old bedroom packing my bags when the phone rang. It was a friend calling to tell me that my apartment building was on fire. Apparently a woman became angry and decided to try to kill everyone in the building by throwing her clothes on a lit stove. That news made me laugh. It wasn’t just my appearance or my talents or my mind that made me feel different. Now my entire story was starting to feel really bizarre.

Most of my neighbors in the apartment building were forced to move out. My landlady, in a thick Russian accent, said, ‘You can stay if you want. Your neighbors cannot stay. Your room is ok. You want to stay?’

Of course I do.

I decided to stay and watch the rest of the building get rebuilt around me. No kidding. It was awesome. I eventually ran out of rent money and decided to live in my car for the last month of that semester. I figured, why not? I had almost died, lost the ability to walk, learned how to walk again, wet myself multiple times in public, and experienced an apartment fire. Why not add homelessness? My favorite part of being homeless was going to the beach and talking with other homeless guys. They too were misfits. I’ll never forget one guy telling me the story of how he had ruined relationships with everyone in his family. He felt terrible and he knew they would never trust him again. He talked about mental and physical illness and suffering. I told him about my own sense of aloneness, and the story of how my legs stopped working. We became friends for that day, and we encouraged each other. That was one of the moments when I started to see how being a misfit can be a good thing.

Over time I started embracing my misfitism. It became my strength. My different way of seeing things. My unusual talent mix. My insane experiences with near-death, paralysis and bladder control. It all became like kindling for a fire. And that fire became so many beautiful things. It became a publishing company that produced music for millions of kids all over the world. It enabled me to counsel and encourage youth who were struggling with addiction, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, depression and broken relationships. I’ve spoken and performed at schools, conferences, clubs, and theaters around the country, to audiences of all kinds. All of those adventures, and the people I’ve met along the way, have fueled what is now my passion for culture making through creativity. That’s the fire behind the work I do as Chief Storyteller at CI Design. I’m not in this role because I fell short of another dream. I’m in this role because I want to be. Because my story led me here.

When I watch The Greatest Showman, I feel a strong stirring in me. It’s a stirring that goes unusually deep. With it I hear a small whisper that says, ‘You’re just getting started.’

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I believe it. I see clues once in a while. Little sign posts that say ‘Keep going down that path. Don’t give up.’ So I keep going, exploring, trying. I won’t give up. I’ll continue to take risks, try new things, and I’ll keep my eyes open for other misfits along the way. My guess is that all of us feel like a misfit at least some of the time. At least that’s my hope. Because being a misfit is probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

That’s why I love watching The Greatest Showman.

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Greg Marshall on The Greatest Showman Being About Misfits and How he is a Misfit

  1. not being ‘average’ seems to me to be more of blessing than curse, especially when you look around at what is passing for ‘average’ these days

    you know, in the UK, they cherish their eccentric folk and are proud of them in a weird way . . . . but not here where lately, if you are not ‘lock-step’ with some political extreme group, you are ‘persona non grata’ and beyond the pale (sp?)

    all I can claim for myself in the way of not fitting the average mold is that life has been both unusually cruel in dramatic ways and unusually generous also in dramatic ways and these extremes have left me in the strangest place:
    more cursed than many, and at the same time, more blessed than many . . . . in short, I have been ‘stretched’ beyond the norm, but for what purpose I do not know

    enough about me, the truth is that looking around, if ‘truth’ be told, most people have suffered terrible events in their lives, and some of them have been also blessed . . . maybe we are all trying too hard to ‘fit in’ when it might have been better to celebrate how we were ‘different’ so we could contribute more to this crazy world where suffering is . . . (?)

    I found something rather wonderful that encourages celebrating life as an older person, and maybe even starting early:
    “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”
    (Jenny Joseph)

    . . . . . had some successful eye surgeries a few years ago . . . . and celebrated by ordering a red purse all the way from London UK . . . . it costs over 300 dollars and I had to pay duty on it . . . . but it goes great with my six dollar tennis shoes from Walmart , also bright tomato red . . . . I’m learning to enjoy 🙂 . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • but it goes great with my six dollar tennis shoes from Walmart , also bright tomato red . . . .

      Speaking of Bizarre:

      (I suspect some of the weirder outfits are from Halloweens…)


  2. It was a friend calling to tell me that my apartment building was on fire. Apparently a woman became angry and decided to try to kill everyone in the building by throwing her clothes on a lit stove. That news made me laugh. It wasn’t just my appearance or my talents or my mind that made me feel different. Now my entire story was starting to feel really bizarre.

    NO. SHIT.
    There is a thing about a life that gets TOO bizarre.

    Liked by 1 person

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