This weekend I saw the play Rent for the second time in several years. The first time, I thought it was a nice show. This time it was a memorable and moving experience. Every theme of the play flew past me unnoticed save one: the responsibility of living well. It is not a show about gay people or AIDS, even though it is. It is about life, about choosing to spend our time on what matters.
I did not expect the floodgates to open during this show, but , hello, everything reminded me of Maura. One of the main characters, aptly named Angel, was Maura: talented, kind, loving, the peacemaker. After one year, Angel dies, leaving his friends to figure out what Angel's life and death taught them of the importance of life, love, and relationships (and, I add, God).
Maura's last 525,600 minutes were, as the song suggests, measured in love. I was taken by surprise to see Maura's high school friend, Jennifer Ross, soulfully sing the solo in Seasons of Love. I felt like I was in church, and someone please pass me the Kleenex. Really. I think the people behind me should have asked for their money back because I was probably very distracting. As Jennifer finished, I rose to my feet, aas did so many others, and the applause reverberated throughout the theatre.
After the show I had to compliment her--and she confided that the director had scolded her for singing the song without passion. So she searched her heart and started over, singing to Maura and for Maura and about Maura. And she got it. And I got it. And the whole audience got it. And it was for Maura. I'm so glad I got to be a part of that.
Jennifer said that Maura taught her how to sing Gospel music. Isn't that funny? The little blond chick teaching the African-American diva how to sing? I think Jennifer exaggerated, but she insisted that she had a very small voice before Maura drew her voice out of its shell.
Theatre is so much better than a self-help book for processing grief. So are novels.
I don't know why. I'm not opposed to inspirational books that speak to grief and healing. I'm reading four of them right now, all good, all helpful; all gifts from friends who were helped themselves by one or another of these books. But I find that it is within fiction that I find a character or two that I can identify with, and I can cry or see things differently or find comfort. Biographies that are written by excellent storytellers (certain books of the Bible being a terrific example of the latter) satisfy that same need.
Here is an excerpt from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I have read this paragraph--the whole chapter--- at least a dozen times over the course of reading the book this month. Simple, but accurate:
There followed, for each of them, good days and bad, and often Edgar's best moments coincided with his mother's worst. She could be cheerful and determinedly energetic for days on end and then one morning he would walk downstairs and find her hunched at the kitchen table, haggard and red-eyed. Once lapsed, nothing could deliver her. It worked the same with him. Just when normal life felt almost possible--when the world held some kind of order, meaning, and even loveliness(the prismatic spray of light through an icicle; the stillness of a sunrise), some small thing would go awry and the veil of optimism was torn away, the barren world revealed. They learned, somehow, to wait those times out. There was no cure, no answer, no reparation.I love that line: They learned, somehow, to wait those times out. Yes, that is what it is like.
I think of the Biblical stories of Hannah, Ruth, Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus), Mary (mother of Jesus)--women who prayed and believed and mourned and did not, even under extreme pressure, lose faith.