I was going to write about something else for this post. I was going to delve into the way people so easily accuse each other of “disrespecting” them and how as far as I can see, making that accusation is itself nothing less than the attack of one person on another.
I think the Christians have a saying – or maybe it’s the Jews – that man plans, and god laughs. While that is a bit of a cruel vision, perhaps that’s what makes it so ironically appropriate.
I think one measure of our humanity is our (for lack of a better word) vulnerability. Our ability to be touched. I’m not saying that you have to weep at the drop of a hat or be always on the edge of a nervous breakdown to be a human being – but I think our humanity is about what cuts through everything else and touches our soul.
I had two such moments this morning, for no particular reason other than they just happened.
I was waking up, and some stray thought made me think of the musical Man of La Mancha. Being a huge fan of that particular musical, I lounged in bed this morn and revisited via the ‘net it’s songs and story.
Everyone who reads these words, I do believe, should see this – either again or for the first time. If you can’t see it performed live, there is at least one film version I know of. The centerpiece of the epic is the song “To Dream the Impossible Dream” – and it’s this impossible dream that has the power to tranform (in the story) a wretched and abused prostitute into the lady she always was, and a hopeless mob of vicious prisoners into an inspired band of comrades. And the story doesn’t hand wave over these transformations, it earns them.
The musical and film have touched me deeply. They do not provide me answers – in many ways, they challenge a lot that I hold dear. But their truth is too obvious, too personal to be ignored or devalued. Watching either the film or the musical brings me at several points to tears. And even just recalling the experience, the musical’s truth this morning brought me to tears as well.
That’s true power. Not the faux machismo of strutting and pretending to be invulnerable. The musical’s power to force us to feel it’s truth – and my power to be willing to in that moment let it consume me with it’s pain and hope, to let it break me and remake me, to surrender to it and weep.
My second moment followed on the first moment closely. Honestly, the connection may not have been profound – it may have been the sounds of Man of La Mancha (which, by the way, I never played outside of my head this morn) that led me to another powerful experience that I think many people know. I’m speaking of the song “Fix You” by Coldplay.
“Fix You” has beauty and grace, and it’s too obvious to just say that and move on, that truth should be dwelled on for a moment. The story is that Chris Martin wrote it for his partner Gwyneth Paltrow (the actress) when upon the death of her father, he was at a loss on how he could console her.
But that’s just why it was written. The best songs and stories aren’t just about what the author intends, they are about what the listener hears. I saw one person say that what they got from the song was 9/11 and it’s aftermath – comparing the killing of Bin Laden as getting what we want, but not what we need.
Perhaps the the essential truths of these human pinnacles, these songs, musical, stories, is that they are true for each of us in our own way while connecting us universally at the same time.
All I know is that for the second time this morning, I was again racked with sadness and tears.
It’s not (I think) that I am depressed – I’m not elated, but at this moment, I am not down in general – the cloudburst of these two moments was immediately followed by a calm stillness and the sun returned. Nor do I think I am particularly overly emotional (ask my family that and they might laugh!), although to the folks pretending to be as untouchable as stone perhaps I seem so. And I don’t think it’s just manipulative chords and verbal melodrama – this wasn’t fake profundity, unless it’s all fake profundity, and I cannot believe that.
I think what touches me the deepest is how things like these speak to the shared plight of the fragile human condition. I think that’s ultimately what’s going on here – empathy and meaningful sentiment. Being open to the pain of others, to our own pain, to the pain of all – and in a way, that’s what our saints and saviors do – they take all our pain into themselves, to try to lessen ours – or at least share it if lessening is not possible.
Our shared plight – and everyone I believe shares in the plight of being human. I will never say that we privileged first world citizens have it anywhere near as badly as the truly destitute and abandoned across the planet. But that does not take from even the most privileged their pain and hurt, their feelings of being alone or afraid. So even though we can appreciate that there’s someone out there that has it much worse than we do, than our friends and family do, that doesn’t subtract one iota of loss or suffering that any of us feel.
Pain is real, even if we scoff at it’s source. We shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter that we think that the teenager who says her heart is broken has it so much better than a kid the same age in Asia, working in a sweatshop every day. Everyone’s suffering is real – as attested by the countless numbers of teens who “had it so much better” that still kill themselves.
Maybe in the end, if we focus on our shared plight, and not on who deserves to be permitted to feel pain, we will be the better people we were supposed to be.
All I know is I remembered Man of La Mancha – and the memory brought me briefly to tears. And a little later I listened to Fix You, and was touched again.
If we could all have, from time to time, moments of vulnerable compassion and empathy, and chose to surrender to feeling deeply, we could begin to build a world and be a people that we truly deserve.
Don’t you agree?