Posts Tagged ‘Dealing with sickness’
The warning signs outside the theater were ominous: “Adult content not suitable for children.” Looking around as we entered, I had to remember that the college-age students there were not children. That’s hard to do when you have offspring older than most present, including the actors performing the show. Carol and I were there by assignment to see the musical “Rent,” the Tony and Pulitzer award winning rock-opera drama about life in New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1980’s. It takes place in the neighborhood known as Alphabet City, an area primarily inhabited by bohemian young people wanting to break into theater, TV or music. Sadly, the area also had high levels of illegal drug activity, violent crime and HIV/AIDS.
Undoubtedly the themes of homosexuality, AIDS, drug addiction and homelessness prompted the warnings about the adult content. The characters include a gay male couple in which both partners have AIDS, an on-again/off-again lesbian couple, and a straight couple in which both partners have AIDS and both have a history of intravenous drug use. It’s not exactly “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and was written intentionally to shake things up, but also to address the concepts of love, loss and community. Those are the themes that I would like to address in this essay. If we can overcome bigotry and be compassionate towards people living with AIDS for a few moments then we can be uplifted by some beautiful elements of Rent.
I’ll admit I was a little put-off when I read some of the articles and reviews of the play in advance of witnessing the production. I wanted to know more about the story before I saw it. I like to think I’m not homophobic but from what I had read in some reviews, the lifestyle went beyond mere portrayal; it was celebrated, endorsed and flaunted in your face. I didn’t want to see that. I’m old-fashioned in that I believe that some things should be left private, and sexual activity is one of them. However, the production that we saw must have been a tamed-down version because there was only occasional gay kissing and touching, nothing too disturbing. I was more bothered by the decibels of the musicians, which sometimes drowned out the singers.
The songs in Rent are the first of the beautiful and uplifting elements that I noticed. The entire play is a musical. It seemed like there were very few lines spoken that were not actually sung. Even the hilarious little phone messages peppered throughout the play were delightfully sung to us, adding much entertainment to the dramatic production. Who hasn’t heard “Seasons of Love,” especially since it has been playing in some TV commercial lately? Although not particularly uplifting to me, La Vie Boheme was immensely entertaining. Other enjoyable songs included Your Eyes, Goodbye Love, Light My Candle, Tango Maureen, Out Tonight, One Song Glory, I Should Tell You, Take Me Or Leave Me, No Day But Today, and Living in America.
I can’t think of one thing with more universal appeal than the idea of love. Who doesn’t want to be loved? I have met people who have said no when I asked them if they wanted to be happy in life but I have never met someone who said no when asked if they wanted to be loved or at least accepted for who they are. Of the three major themes I saw in the play, the idea of being loved came across the strongest. Although they had a lot of emotional handicaps and baggage, these were people dealing with building relationships. I can’t identify with being a drag queen but when Angel was dying, I found myself shedding a tear for Collins’ loss.
Living with Loss
These people lived with loss every day. That’s why one of the recurring songs was entitled, “No Day but Today.” How they dealt with that loss teaches a lot about the idea of community. They came together in their grief. They comforted one another. They took care of one another the best they could. Mimi was not judged for her drug addiction but was encouraged to live without it and find something better to take its place. Since so many of their friends were dying, they adopted the motto to live for the day and to reach for their dreams one day at a time. How hard it must be to make plans for the future when you are living with a disease like AIDS.
It was love and loss that built their community. They only had each other. Rejected by so many outside their world, they had to give each other strength, and they did. Although the ending was a little hokey with Angel becoming the angel who told Mimi to go back when she was dying, the love that developed between Roger and Mimi was delightful to witness. How can you not love a happy, feel-good ending where the main characters find happiness in each other? Except there’s one big problem – they still have AIDS and will die someday. But then, so will we all. See, it really does have universal appeal. The play mirrors life that someday will end.
After seeing the play, Carol read the script and I read dozens of reviews. I was fascinated by the dichotomy of opinions expressed. It seems that most reviewers either loved it or hated it. One said she had never walked out of a play before in her life but walked out on Rent. She must have had a family member in our audience because a couple in front of us walked out at the first encounter of affection expressed between Angel and Collins. Were they homophobic? In all probability, yes they were. I mean, the music was loud and the show could be confusing if you weren’t paying close attention, but it was obvious that they didn’t like what they were seeing.
Reviews from Viewers
Here’s a quote from one of those reader reviews I found in the NY Times about the time the show was closing after a twelve-year run: “If you want homosexuality and drug addiction rubbed in your face, then this is the play for you. I basically hated it, if you haven’t figured that out yet.” In contrast, “Rent is a fabulous roller-coaster ride of emotion. The characters are extremely real, and so are the troubles they face. The songs are beautiful and the energy and electricity of it is so wonderful that you are a complete moron if you don’t like it. The only reason anyone wouldn’t like this show is if they are homophobic, intolerant, and weak.”
But my favorite had to be, “So let’s see… a group of drug addicted promiscuous squatters are the heroes and the one person who breaks from the group and becomes successful and buys the building (which they live in illegally) is the bad-guy because he wants rent… hhhmmmm… and let’s see, we have loud screeching that we’re supposed to call singing but it’s “cool dude” ’cause the lead is just so hot looking and has the teeny bopper girls squealing in delight. This is a show for the MTV-Put-Upon Generation… pure junk.” Opinions of performances are one thing but this reviewer was obviously passing judgment and commenting on the lifestyle choices.
Part of the impact of the show is the death of the composer and writer, Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic dissection, believed to have been caused by Marfan syndrome, on the night before the play opened off Broadway. In spite of his death, the show went on. Glowing reviews began to appear. The six-week run sold out immediately. In the months to come, Rent moved to Broadway, won four Tony awards, including the prize for best musical, and Jonathan Larson won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, posthumously. The show went on to become one of the longest running productions on Broadway and is now enjoying a second life in local theater.
Rent has had and is still having a social impact. While the play is now a little dated with the use of pay phones, answering machines and clunky old cell phones the size of a brick, it is still attracting younger crowds wherever it plays. Of course, that was probably inevitable in our case, given that our venue was a local community college. Wherever it opens, it is reviewed by the local theater critics. The comments posted on those online reviews demonstrate that some of the same prejudices and bigotry are still alive and well in America today. Rent is a wonderful example of American creativity that reaches to the very heart of our lives through love and loss. I hope our community has changed and become more tolerant in the years since it first opened.
I haven’t included a lot of quotes from the musical, because frankly, they aren’t very deep. For example, here’s one from the song, Light my Candle: “I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs.” And from Angel, the transvestite, “I’m more of a man than you’ll ever be and more of a woman than you’ll ever get.” From the song Will I, about dying from AIDS: “Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” I suppose my favorite has to be “There will always be women in rubber flirting with me…” That last quote is from Maureen, one of the two lesbians. Some of the stuff is really quite funny, if you can just get past the idea that these are people looking for love in unorthodox relationships.
And that is the point of the play and the impact it has had on America. How do we view the lives of those who are not in orthodox relationships? Do we view them as sinners, in need of repentance and salvation, who will suffer in hell because of their poor lifestyle choices? I am confident that there are millions of people who will voice that very opinion without hesitation. Or do we love and accept them, making an effort to help them find happiness and success in life? That is one of the toughest choices in life, especially for those who have family members living in a lifestyle that is contrary to the moral principles that they value. Rent helps us see past the pain and sorrow of rejection and loss of those who live with AIDS and still manage to have hope.
It’s that final scene of hope that I find most uplifting and inspiring about the play. They found hope because they loved and supported each other through their loss and sorrow. I think Jonathan Larson would be pleased to think that his play has helped us to become more loving and supportive of each other, especially those who deal with AIDS on a daily basis. And in the end, the millions he earned posthumously from the play helps others pursue their writing careers.
Note: Carol saw the play with me and shared an excellent review on her blog.
While sitting in the hospital room with my wife on Sunday morning as she was recovering from surgery, I asked her a deep and personal question. She wanted me to help her with her latest blog entry as she dictated it so I recorded it on my laptop computer. When she finished it, I asked her how she knew that the Lord loved her.
She didn’t answer me right away but thought about it until this morning after we returned from a follow-up doctor’s visit. She then shared some things that were unmistakable evidence to her of God’s love for her. It was a sacred and emotional moment that helped me to know I am not alone in seeing God’s hand in our lives.
Looking beyond the battle
Carol is going through a difficult time right now and it took a lot for her to share those touching personal evidences. Dealing with her cancer is taking a lot of her energy and sometimes causes her to see only the immediate battle instead of the big picture. I asked her to take a minute to look beyond the battle and she did.
While we were waiting for the doctors to discharge her yesterday, I shared with her some of the things that are evidence to me that God knows and loves me. As I held her hand and recounted evidences from my youth of answered prayers, I felt that we don’t pause often enough to realize how the Lord shows each of us his love.
Praying over our flocks
There are so many times in my daily work that I am confronted with situations that tax my technical capabilities. It can be tough being the only computer dude in a small to medium sized business. You are expected to be the expert on a myriad number of software and hardware products. That’s just what an IT Manager does.
Little do my co-workers realize that there is no way that one person can know the answer to every question about all those hundreds of technology products that we use in our business. I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed for help from my Heavenly Father to be able to respond to yet another difficult tech question.
A not-so-typical problem
Let me give you an example from a recent experience that proved to me that the Lord knew what I was going through. For several weeks a certain employee had been calling and complaining that emails were not getting through to her from a very important client. We looked at everything trying to figure out the problem.
Finally, this employee laid down the law and said that this problem had to be fixed now! I re-inspected all the filters through which our email passes and could find nothing wrong. As I was reporting back via email, I decided to document the steps I had taken by including screen-prints of each filter and the corresponding settings.
A quiet whispered impression
Just before I was about to hit the send button, which in essence was admitting defeat, something impressed me to take one more look at the screen-prints I had included. As I reviewed each line very closely, I noticed something so simple that I laughed out loud and then started to shout in joyous exultation. I had found it!
My wife looked over at me and wondered why her normally so serious husband was shouting, “I’ve got you!” and doing a little happy dance. I reminded her of the problem I had been dealing with for so long and told her that I had finally found the solution. It was an exciting moment and one in which I felt profound relief.
The Lord stretches us
The problem was that the client had misspelled the employee’s name in her email address. What compounded it was that she only did it occasionally and usually on the really urgent emails. It was only when I had a screen-print in front of me with several copies of the incoming emails that I saw the simple yet terminal problem.
After I pointed the problem out to the employee with perhaps too much enjoyment, and everyone was happy again, I reflected back on how simple the problem really was. Why hadn’t I seen it before? I believe it was because the Lord wanted me to get to the point where I was about to admit defeat before he stepped in to help me.
Tender mercies of the Lord
I had done everything I knew how to do to resolve the problem. I was convinced that it was what we call in the industry a false positive, or a piece of email being blocked in the spam filter because it met the criteria of the complex spam rules. But it wasn’t a filter problem. It just didn’t know where to deliver the email.
The Lord knows how much I hate to admit defeat. I am a problem-solver by nature and thrive on resolving deep and complex technical issues. That’s what makes my job enjoyable. It is evidence to me that God loves me because he reached out and rescued me from having to admit defeat by prompting me to take that one last look.
The small and simple things
Now you may say that this was all just a big coincidence and that God had nothing to do with helping me to resolve the problem. You may even say that I must not be very smart to have not seen right away that an email address had been misspelled. But I can tell you that several of us had already looked at those screens for weeks.
This is not the only time the Lord has helped me in my work. I could probably fill a dozen essays with example after example of how the Lord inspired me or blessed me to be able to do something that was beyond my natural ability. I have studied and have worked in tech support my entire career but I have rarely done it alone.
Beyond my natural abilities
Success in my career is important to me. It helps me to fulfill the commandment of the Lord to provide for my family. Because the Lord gave me this responsibility and commandment, I feel that I have the right to call upon him to bless me in my work so that I can be successful. It’s like we are in a sacred partnership together.
I have not always seen the hand of the Lord in my work. Sometimes I have made rather foolish mistakes and wonder why they happened to me. I look back and realize that I had been trying to do it on my own or not giving the Lord credit for helping me. I always perform beyond my natural abilities when I ask God for help.
The Lord chastens us
The same thing applies to my spiritual life. I have seen the hand of the Lord in my spiritual growth and development numerous times – too many to enumerate. But I have not always acknowledged his kindness in helping me. That’s when I struggle and wonder why I feel like I’m going through my life’s experiences all by myself.
It is only when I stop and think that I realize how truly blessed I am and how much the Lord must really love me. The scripture says that the Lord chastens those who he loves. If our chastening experiences are any indication then we must be some of the Lord’s chosen. Now if I only knew for what purpose we are being chosen.
Preparing for eternity
I suppose I already know the answer. Just as it is easy to overlook the hand of the lord in my work, thinking that something so mundane as computer tech support can’t be of any interest to the Lord, it is just as easy to overlook the tender mercies of the Lord in our lives as we pass through this episode of cancer in Carol’s body.
I love Carol and I will love her forever. I chose her to be my companion not only for this life but forever. I am convinced that we will pass through this cancer scare successfully. I believe that the doctors caught it early enough that it will not be a problem once it is removed in the surgery next week. That in itself is a miracle.
Summary and conclusion
It is easy to think that God doesn’t love us or isn’t interested in our mundane lives. But if we stop and take the time to think about it, God is very involved in what we do each day. We just have to look for ways that mean something special to us. In my example, it was a subtle impression to inspect a screen-print just a little closer.
In Carol’s case, it is being able to fall asleep after a prayer in spite of tremendous pain, or wondering why you’re not stepping on the gas when the light turns green and then watching someone run a red light in front of you. What about you? How does the Lord demonstrate to you that he loves you and is involved in your life?