This theatre season, my cast worked through enormous obstacles to perform Les Miserables.
And then .. on opening night?
Covid-19 starting shutting down all assembling of groups.
So 10 weeks of hard work.. and the kids were only allowed to perform for their families. The cast was heartbroken… but they wiped their tears… and performed an awe-inspiring opening night.
I could NOT have been more proud.
This experience is a little surreal…
Surreal in the sense that everything was so different from where we were 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks ago, I was reminding the kids to hang up their costumes and to clean up their own messes.. and to turn in tee shirt money.
And today… I am JUST praying that each of my cast members stays safe and healthy..
But it is also surreal for me in the sense… that ALL of my life I have been studying Plagues and epidemics .. and pandemics. The Black Death.. the Spanish flu (that started in The US)… siege sicknesses, the viruses that wiped out the Natives, etc..
Not so much for the illnesses or the deaths… because death and suffering saddens me…
…but how those illnesses.. and the fear… and the chaos affected the people. And how those effects changed the course of history.
How poor people could suddenly own land…
…How our children still sing “Ring around the rosies”.. to ward off evil spirits…
And here we are… smack in the middle of what WILL BECOME history. Someday, kids will be studying about the Covid-19 pandemic of 2019.. and wonder how the “population coped with the terror” and the isolation..
I wonder if the history books will tell how we had a shortage of toilet paper… and no shortage of the conspiracy theories?
Or will the future history books say that the “population” learned from the history books of the past? Will the history books state how we all chose to obey isolation and quarantined ourselves at home?
Will the history books say how we banded together to give each other hope for a future?
Because we WILL have a future.
Even the worst plagues… the survivors dusted off their hats.. picked up the pieces of their lives.. and made a future for themselves.
And little by little?
We learned from them. From the survivors. We learned to wash our hands. We learned to quarantine ourselves if we have been exposed. We learned not to panic.. and not to take the virus to the next town in our panic.
We HAVE so much knowledge at our fingertips THANKS to the records and observations kept of those pandemics in history.
Because we have learned from our history? We find ourselves in quarantine BEFORE it gets too bad. We find ourselves bored and creating funny memes about isolation “cabin fever”.. while we wait for the virus to run it’s course.
But … we will ALSO find ourselves with a better future.
A future that MAY hold graduations later in the summer. A future with delayed vacations.. delayed celebrations ..
A future with strange new school routines.
A future that has changed us all in small ways…
For me? I’m praying that my future has our cast performing Les Miserables when the crisis is over.
And I’m praying that when we hear Marius sing about empty chairs and empty tables… that there are no empty chairs in our community..
I’m praying there are no empty chairs in our cast…
And I’m definitely praying that we did our part enough.. that I won’t have ANY empty chairs in my family.
But even if we never hear our cast sing a song rejoicing in “one day more”… ?
I’m happy that our nation and our schools gave them their best chance at being able to sing another day.
Yesterday, I was all set to walk out the door. I was showered. My hair was pretty (i.e. NOT in a ponytail). I had discarded my jeans for dress clothes. I crawled into the closet and found both of my black shoes. And my face was devoid of any and all makeup. I was ready. Ready to go to the funeral for the father of a dear sister in law. I didn’t know her father very well… but I wanted my sister to know that I love her .. and that I am here for her. And to hug my nieces.. and possibly my brother if he needed one. With my hand on the door, I called out last minute instructions to my snowbound kiddos.
AND THEN? Yup.. then my plans changed. (It happens a lot with kids in High School.) In the blink of an eye my plans changed from having plenty of time… to NOT going. Usually I roll with the changes with a deep breath.. But this made me sad. When I made my poor sounding excuse to my sister in law .. being the great person she is.. totally forgave me without another thought.
I have an amazing family.
But you aren’t thinking about my amazing family.. are you? You are probably still wondering WHY I would go to a funeral without any makeup. A function where everyone tries to look their best? And I was going so informal? On purpose? Well.. the answer is simple.
I am a cry-er.
I cry at everything. I cry when I am overwhelmed. I cry when I am sad.. when I am angry.. and when I am happy too. When I watched someone COMPLETELY embarrass themselves for no good reason? After I can breathe again.. I cry again. I even cry at Folger’s commercials. I cry a lot. I always have. Ha.. I remember my older brothers rolling their eyes at my tears more than once. When someone was truly angry, my eyes would tear up. When my siblings were truly disappointed by someone or something.. tears. When I was scared for my brother.. when he would try a MacGyver TV stunt .. you know.. to see if MacGyver would really survive? Yup.. tears again.
After being asked why I cried so much .. by more than one person? I tried to control it. I learned that if I bite the corner of my tongue (JUST enough to hurt) and concentrate on the pain? I could control the non-stop emotional roller coaster. And I have gotten good at it ..in certain circumstances. But when I am busy concentrating on NOT crying? I tune out.. Then I can’t listen to what someone is saying. I can’t empathize with their situation. I basically don’t feel anything.
There are times when this doesn’t work. Funerals are one of them. Two hundred years ago, when they would hire people to mourn at funerals? Yup.. I would have had a steady income. I can not go to a funeral and NOT cry. Not feel the hole left behind. Father, mother, sibling, relative, friend.. and especially children. Even when I know that everything happens according to God’s plan? When I know His plan is perfect? I still cry. I still feel that hole as if it were my own. An overwhelming sadness fills me.. and I can’t control it no matter how hard I bite my tongue. So I learned.. I learned to not wear makeup.
You see? I am not a pretty cry-er. My eyes burn. My throat burns. I can not talk without great effort. It gets hard to breathe. As the tears course gently down my cheeks…. my eyes turn bright red .. and my face turns extremely blotchy.. Yup… I am an ugly cry-er. The more overwhelming the emotion? The uglier my red blotchy face gets… and then? Then my nose starts to run..
So you can see why I would want to learn to control it.
You may think I inherited my ability to feel emotions from my mother.. but you would be wrong. My mother is a very empathetic person. She is kindhearted. She would drop anything to help you out. But she is very practical with her emotions. She stays pretty calm. I’m not saying she doesn’t cry. She does. When our house burned? She was crying. When her Dad died? She cried. When I crashed a car and made it look like a matchbox car that was stepped on? She cried again. And you bet.. I was crying too. That is not to say she didn’t cry more often.. when she was alone. Being practical with emotions.. that just means you can control when those emotions overwhelm you …to a certain extent.
Nope! My ability to feel everyone’s emotions.. to become teary eyed at a moment’s notice? It actually comes from my Dad. He will probably cringe when he knows I have let his secret out. Sorry Dad! But when we would watch sad movies? It was my Dad and I passing the kleenex box back and forth. When my Dad was disappointed with me.. we were both crying again.. At the end of the movie.. when the old dog that NO ONE thought would survive the long trip home.. actually makes it back home? Yup.. I actually need a tissue now just thinking about it. Now in our defense, movie tears are MUCH more dignified. We get choked up and our eyes start flooding.. but at least my face doesn’t look like I’ve been in the sun too long.
I was ashamed of my tears for years. But knowing that my father cried too. Knowing that he cried at the same things I do? That the amazing man who I looked up to more than anyone else in the world.. teared up when he felt the emotions of other people. I started to feel like it was okay. It made me accept it as part of who I was. Who I AM!
But still, I tried to control it in public. Sometimes it left a bad feeling in my heart. When my friend told me about her troubled heart.. in public? I would concentrate on getting my emotions back under control.. and then when I felt I had? I would focus again on my friend. But I would often miss something important. So instead of being able to help my friend.. I let my embarrassment over my emotions take over. When I missed what they were telling me? When I couldn’t even give an appropriate response to what they needed? I felt selfish in those moments.. and I felt like crying again.
Then one day, my daughter was telling me she had to recite a verse for a prize at Vacation Bible school that day. I laughed softly. I told her the story of the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” John 11:35. You see whenever my siblings or I would be required to tell a Bible verse for some reason? One of us kids would recite that verse. Not because we couldn’t remember any other verse. Not because we didn’t know at least a handful of verses off the top of our head. We told it simply because it was the shortest. My daughter raised her eyebrow then.. which told me she had NO IDEA why we would have thought that was funny. But being a curious child, she asked, “Why did Jesus weep?” I explained to her how Jesus had arrived to his friend’s town after he had died. In fact, that he had been in a tomb for 4 days. When He saw that His friend Lazarus had been laid out in death… That Lazarus had been put in a tomb and a rock rolled to cover the entrance… Jesus wept. Even though He KNEW before He arrived in Bethany, that Lazarus had died so that a miracle could happen. He knew that this was all part of God’s perfect plan. Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise again. … and still He cried. Jesus was so overwhelmed that He cried to release ALL of the emotions crushing his heart. I explained to my daughter that the Bible goes on to say that the people could all see from His tears that Jesus truly cared about His loved ones. That the Son of God truly cares what happens to us.. and weeps with us.
But in that moment, I saw something beyond the words in the Bible. Jesus trusted God. He followed the Path God set out for Him. He never questioned God’s perfect Plan. Jesus knew without the shadow of a doubt that ALL things work together to Glorify God.. but still.. still the sadness of his friends.. the sadness of the hole that had been left behind.. it overwhelmed Jesus and He cried… but it doesn’t say He cried.. The Bible says that Jesus Wept… Weeping makes me picture enough tears to stain His eyes and cheeks red.. Weeping makes me think His chest burned with the emotion that possibly made it hard for Him to breathe. Weeping doesn’t sound like “pretty” crying.
In that moment, I saw something else. My emotions didn’t mean that I didn’t have Faith in God’s Plans. My crying didn’t say to God that I didn’t Trust that His ways were perfect. My tears weren’t a sign that my heart was weak. If Jesus can weep … not because He lacked Faith ..but BECAUSE His heart overflowed with love for His friend? Then my ability to feel the emotions of others.. it meant that my heart overflows with love.. right? It means that my heart is.. in fact… strong.
What I had seen as my weakness? It was actually my Super Power.
A Super Power that I had inherited from my Heavenly Father. A Super Power that I share with my earthly Father. I have always believed that God gives everyone a super power and a weakness. The super power that they are supposed to use to make the world a better place.. and to Glorify God’s name. The weakness is to keep us humble.. Humble and understanding of our fellow man. I had always thought crying was MY weakness.. but I was wrong.
So now when I feel the sadness of a friend? I let the tears fall. When I hear the disappointment in my daughter’s voice? I hug her and cry with her. And when I go to a Funeral .. or even a Wedding? I don’t wear makeup. There is really no point.. I know the tears will just ruin it. I would rather look blotchy.. then look like a blotchy raccoon (..when all my mascara runs).
And it feels good to let the tears fall.
But there are days when my emotions are raw. Days.. or weeks.. when I am so overwhelmed with worries in my own life that my emotions surface too often. Times when it feels like my heart is bruised. Times when even tears can’t cleanse the burning in my chest. On these days? I wear earplugs. Well .. headphones actually.. headphones with soothing.. distracting.. much loved music. On the day I went to the grocery store.. to find my daughter a snack that fit into her Gluten free/Dairy free/Corn free diet? I was too raw. I was overcome with guilt that it was the food I was feeding my kids that was causing all their troubles. All their health issues, their mood disorders… That guilt still burned in my heart. So I wore my headphones.
Why would I wear headphones to the store? What could be overwhelming?
Have you ever seen the mother in aisle 7 whose 3 year old is throwing ANOTHER temper tantrum? The one who looks like she wants to cry? I do. Have you ever seen the beautiful grandma in the card aisle? The one who can barely walk but wants to pick out the perfect card for her daughter? The one who openly admits it may be her last year to do so? I have. Have you ever seen the young couple .. just back from their honeymoon.. who came to pick out towels together? The one’s with love and hope shining from their eyes? I have. Have you ever seen the person standing in the garden section? The one picking out the perfect plant to take to a funeral? The person who would rather be anywhere else.. but wants to be strong for the people left behind? I have. I see all of them. There are days that I leave the grocery store and cry in my car… from all the emotions I saw.. All the emotions I felt for these people. I flash smiles… send up quiet prayers… and reach frostings that are on the top shelf.
If I am already raw? These extra emotions almost cripple me… and then I weep.
But I AM becoming more comfortable with my Super Power. I stay in tune more.. Which means I listen better, I laugh more… I cry more… AND I feel less selfish. I help more people because I can hear what they need. I get much more from the world around me.. because I am proud of who I am.. of who I take after.
Just recently, someone asked me if I get my “tears” from my mother… I shook my head and smiled. No, I get them from my Father.
Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.