It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks in our lives here in our small Kentucky town. The girl has been in a school play; her first since we left homeschool land and came into private school world. Lots of long days and longer nights practicing and perfecting. The Music Man songs still rattle around in our brains.
Not only was my girl in the play? But my dear friend in charge of directing decided to put me in charge of helping one of the main characters with costume changes; a young lady I’d only met briefly. I absolutely adored her! To say the least, when you’re standing just offstage, in the dark, with necklaces wrapped around your neck, hats on your head and billows of skirts and blouses to yank off and put back on in a minute’s time…….you get to know someone better….or at the least, you find yourself laughing over upside down skirts and you gesture wildly and whisper frantically in british accents to each other for no reason until you’re fairly sure your actor is appropriately dressed and you send her back onstage. And when you have down time? You get into a bit of mischief yourself.
I was worn pastey thin by the last of the five performances. I sat and stared into space during the down time because I’d run clean out of personality. I always notice, at times when you go behind the curtain, that you see the backside of life, the frayed threads. There’s something sanitary about staying in the bleachers. You don’t get germs that way and everyone is nicey nice. When you actually venture close enough to finally pay attention to the man behind the curtain….that’s when things get dicey. Turns out we get on each other’s nerves, we don’t all fold the towels the same way, we get tired and cranky and whispery behind backsies. We rush by someone going slower. We generally show ourselves fallible. We love. We just do it messy and outside the lines. Sometimes we hurt without meaning to. Sometimes we very much mean to.
So I crawled into bed at the end of that last night of the play, all full of theater analogies, tired beyond tired, rehearsing the day. Tired makes the world bigger and I cried for no discernible reason; at least ones I couldn’t slap a label on; except that I was tired and thinking about how fast life sneaks things in on you when you were busy clapping politely in the bleachers. After the last of the costumes had been hung up and the doors slammed hollow with people leaving; the ending of something making me wince, I’d walked to my car, remembering what most of these young actors weren’t old enough to forget. That things change irreversibly, sometimes when you don’t notice, until one day you look back and realize you’d done something for the last time and hadn’t known it would be.
I’d made a promise earlier that week to young boys at school that I’d come and watch them kick and tumble and score all the way down the field and back that night after the play. It was their last indoor game, a rite of passage in their 12 year old soccer world for this season. I walked toward the bleachers, the second set I’d seen that day, and there I saw the back of someone I used to know, whose table I’d shared meals on, whose couch I’d sat on and listened as tears fell. The thing is, the last time? I hadn’t known it would be; until time came in and went out tide like and one day I’d realized. I found my place on the bleachers and didn’t speak. Or look back. Just forward, eyes locked on the field. Jagged endings make the air feel strange and dissonant and you stay behind the curtain, not remembering your lines. So you don’t say anything.
It lay on my heart heavy like a cold greasy egg this morning when I woke up. I spit out bits and pieces to my friend; this script we’re sometimes handed in a language we can’t hardly read, the stage blocking making me resentful and edgy. I wanted things to be hard for this person whose back I’d stared at the night before. I wanted plays to begin and not come to an ending that would change things forever. I struggled to be all in the day and scrolled aimlessly through internet stories to distract myself. Then I read this from a man who’d just lost his wife two weeks past. He recalls the last few days.
“Joey gathered her family together around her and she said goodbye to each of them… to her mother and father and her three sisters. There were lots of tears as she explained to each one how much she loved them and that she was going to be going home soon. That her time here was done and she was going to go to sleep soon. And then she asked me to bring our baby in. And so… I set our little Indy on Joey’s lap and we all cried with my wife as she told her how much her mama loved her and, “…you be a big girl for your papa… and that mama will be watching over you”. And then she pulled Indiana up and she kissed her.
One last kiss.”
I needed to forgive endings that come; forgive jagged edges and unapproved scripts. I had to come to terms with backstage behavior and frayed life threads; to learn how to shake hands with the man behind the curtain. I needed to decide not to settle on bleacher seats just to stay comfortable when the play got messy. I had to figure out a way to stop at backs turned and extend the far reach of grace. The time is coming when it will be the last time unaware. I don’t want to cringe.