I have always been a believer in fate. That sometimes, we need to hear or see or experience moments that put everything we’re dealing with into perspective. It might be the words from a dear friend at 3 AM in a strange city, who tells you that everything is going to be okay. Or ideas from a movie or song or story that help you work past a difficulty. I believe we often find ourselves in the right place at the right time. Some of us see it. Some of us don’t. I know that on more than one occasion, I have muttered to myself that things couldn’t have happened any other way.
Ever since coming home from the hospital, I’ve been struggling with a lot of different issues. Slowly finding ways to cope with the major surgery and recovery. The bouts of emotional craziness that follows when you’ve been opened up and pieces of you are taken out. Fretting on the night before surgery that should something happen, your kids who just came to visit and wish you luck, may never see you again. Writing emotional letters for them to find on your hard drive should your fears be substantiated. Realizing shortly after your surgery is over that you are powerless on your path. Neil Finn sums it up brilliantly in the song, “Anytime.” (I hope you can infer the subject of the song without having to look it up.)
These thoughts and feelings mess with you on a daily basis until you learn to accept them. Initially, I found myself angry at my inability to be normal. Intermixed with periods of depression and bouts of crying, I just desperately wanted to feel like me again. I didn’t want to give in to idea that something in me changed during those fourteen days.
Having a particularly rough couple of days, tonight, I went and saw my son perform in “Our Town”. While I wanted to celebrate his success, I arrived and took my seat with the attitude that I was about to waste three hours of my life watching a bunch of high-school kids traipse around the stage and overact.
I was horribly wrong.
I don’t think they truly get it, these sixteen and seventeen year old children. How fleeting life is, how full of passion and anger and triumph and failure. As the third act started and the lump in my throat finally subsided as my son exited stage left, successful in his part, I finally understood the meaning of the show.
Death has taken Emily, one of our lead actresses in the play. We grow to know her in act one as a child. As quickly as the curtain rises in act two, so has she grown into a young woman in love. The whirlwind of life continues until shortly after we find out that a spot in the town cemetery has been saved for a woman who has recently passed away. The empty seat facing the audience has been held for our Emily.
In denial of her current predicament, she begs to go back and relive one, painless day in her life only to realize that she missed it all as it was happening. Full of regret and resignation, she returns to her plot and offers this revelation to those who’ve passed before her. Unsurprisingly, they all nod in agreement only after some of her new companions give up their own long-held self-resentments for their behavior while alive.
I am crying buckets by this point in the show and no matter how much I try to compose myself, I can’t. Emily told me what I needed to hear — death is inevitable. Worrying about it only steals time from the people who matter most in our lives. We do not get to relive the happy and sad days after the curtain has closed. We are doomed to only see the things we did not do, the people we didn’t appreciate, the places we never got to visit and lament the love we will never feel again.
I brought my two daughters to this show. As we walked back towards the exit, I asked Lexie to distill the meaning of what she saw. At the innocent age of twelve, she turned to me and said, “Don’t be afraid to live life to the fullest.”
The tears I thought I had under control surfaced again.
“It was only a play, mom.”
“And what about you, Allie?”, I asked my youngest, biting my tongue in protest of my rising emotion.
“The last part made me sad.”
“Me too, hon. Me too.”
Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe each on their own, the seven, twelve, sixteen and seventeen year old kids do get it on some level. I’d like to think that as we mature, what was raw emotion experienced by a young child evolves into understanding and further grows into action. Perhaps one has to be in the right place at the right time to really understand what it is to truly live a life.
I can’t tell you how to spend the remainder of your days, short as they may be. Time passes in the blink of an eye, after all. The only thing I know is that I will be far more focused on the living part of life than the dying.
It is so much more than a play.