Aha Moment: Madonna’s “Live to Tell”


Friday, March 14, 2014

Holly Welker was already doubting her Mormon faith when she went on her mission to Taiwan, memorizing stock phrases to start a conversation about God. “As soon as I said goodbye to my parents, I realized I made a mistake,” she remembers. She found herself in a strange city with few friends, suffering from a crisis of faith as well as symptoms of depression. Not many Chinese people “wanted to talk to a weeping white woman about Christianity.”

She found an unlikely source of solace during a visit to a night market. One of the stalls had a small television which played the music video for Madonna’s “Live to Tell.” 

I have a tale to tell
Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well
I was not ready for the fall
Too blind to see the writing on the wall

A man can tell a thousand lies
I've learned my lesson well
Hope I live to tell
The secret I have learned, 'till then
It will burn inside of me

“I felt the spirit. I felt a religious confirmation,” Holly says. The song confirmed that “I had a story worth telling and I had an obligation to try tell it.” She felt empowered to tough out the rest of her mission “as gracefully as possible, but if that wasn’t very graceful, so be it.”

Twenty years later, Holly lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and often writes about faith, including her own. “I don’t go to church, but I’m still interested in the context that produced me.”

Is there a song, movie, book, or another work of art that has changed your life? Tell us in a Comment below, or by e-mail.


Video: Madonna, "Live To Tell" (with scenes from the movie At Close Range)

    Music Playlist
  1. Live to Tell
    Artist: Madonna
    Album: True Blue (Reissue)
    Label: Warner Bros.
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Live to Tell
    Artist: Vitamin String Quartet
    Album: The String Quartet Tribute To Madonna
    Label: Vitamin Records
    Purchase: Amazon


Julia Barton, Jenny Lawton and Matt Liebowitz

Comments [5]

Barbara Kronish

long time cousin--but I think of you and Mark often, andd am very glad that you're doing well--happy anniversary! Can't believe that it was 50 years ago that your beautiful outdoor wedding took place. many more happy and healthy ones. love, cousin b

Jun. 15 2014 12:19 PM
Beryl W Slater from NY

In May, 1969 I had just given birth to my second child and second daughter. I was 26. Within two weeks of her birth my mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer and my husband with testicular cancer. At that time I believed that cancer was an incontrovertible death sentence; nobody survived. The only thing that kept me sane was Harry Nilsson singing "Everybody's Talkin" from Midnight Cowboy. The lyrics seemed to give permission to my worst inclinations: to get the hell out and never look back. I couldn't hear, I couldn't listen, I just wanted to go where the sun was shining and skip over the ocean.
My mother in law was dead within three months but my husband is 75 and we have celebrated our fiftieth anniversary. There was even a third daughter. I didn't skip; my AHA moment was that you could need to leave and still stay.

Mar. 17 2014 09:55 PM
Bill Brady from St. Paul MN

Holly's story sparked in me a memory of my own AHA moment, which coincidentally also involves Mormonism. I was living in upstate NY, early 1980s. Started dating a Mormon girl I'd met in a community theater production. Fell head over heals in love. She was a beautiful soul. But I just couldn't get my arms around the Mormonism. Tried but I had too many questions for which their answers didn't sit right with me. I wrestled with this nightly, asking God whether I was wrong to be rejecting the religion or wrong to be in love with one of its members? I worried that I might be condemning myself to eternal damnation for not believing. And if I didn't believe in it, what the heck DID I believe in? I had to believe in something, didn't I? Which religion is right? Which is the right horse to bet on, and if I don't place the right bet, will I burn forever? Why is this happening to me?!?!?

I was driving down Interstate 90 to visit my folks one day with all of these thoughts tormenting me. I had just broken up with her over it and had never cried so hard in my life. I had the radio tuned to a tiny station out of Warsaw, NY, only because a college classmate of mine worked there. In the midst of the usual top 40 drivel of the day, my buddy decides to play an oldie, from about 10 years previous. It was called Desiderata.

"Go placidly amidst the noise and haste," came the words from the rich, comforting voice of Les Crane, "and remember what peace there may be in silence." Softly, slowly, it builds, until, as if speaking directly to me, he says, "Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

It was exactly what I needed to hear. A message of peace and serenity at a time when my mind was at war with itself. Some folks think the Desiderata is overly schmaltzy. It is certainly easy to make fun of. Over the years I've read parodies of it that are downright hilarious. But I will never forget what it did for me that day, and has stuck with me ever since. I am at peace.

Mar. 16 2014 06:03 PM
Mark Schuyler from Brooklyn, NY

My Aha moment was when I went to see the film Victor, Victoria. I watched the film with interest, but what gutted me emotionally was two men meeting each other, falling in love and not suffering a horrible event, twisted, terrible death or eternal loneliness.

Quite the opposite...plus film actors I found quite attractive and sexy.

Quite an aha moment for a man with two children, a wife, a life in the NYC suburbs, president of his parish council, and pillar of the community status.

Him? Gay? Nawwwww! But that film set in motion a ten year plan and my happiness.

How sweet that moment...I cried for days at the thought of such happiness.

Mar. 16 2014 12:13 PM
randy from Hopkins, Mn

My partner of 26 yrs passed away 4yrs ago, a song came to me Crosby, Stills, and Nash a Bridge Over Troubled Waters. That song really hit me hard hearing this song soon after his death, but since has been a comfort to me. I also have met someone, just starting to see and getting to know. I've lossed other relatives including parents, but losing your partner or a child is the hardest.

Mar. 15 2014 11:23 PM

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