I’ve been going to my local theater for some time, watching amateur plays. I take the kids, trying to force some culture into their little brains before they decide that nothing I like is cool. I am, after all, in my thirties.
The husband doesn’t go with us, and that’s fine. Sometimes my mother in law goes, sometimes it’s just me and the girls. Sometimes it’s just me and my older one.
The last play of the season, before their long Summer break, was Flowers For Algernon. Yeah, I took a twelve and thirteen year old to see that.
My husband thought I was crazy for going. He’s not a big fan of sad for sad’s sake. “That’s such a terrible story!” he said. “Why would you want to go see something that has such a sad ending? It’s just going to upset you.”
He also pointed out, as lovingly as possible, that I have depression. That at least one of our daughters also has depression. That maybe seeing a play about a man who goes from mental retardation to superhuman intelligence and back again might be a little more than my depressed little soul could take.(Please don’t take offense at my use of the phrase mental retardation. It is the actual medical term given to the character, Charlie, and is not intended as a slight in any way.)
Fun fact, a whole rainbow of elderly dementia illnesses run in my husband’s side of the family. They don’t in mine. In fact, my two great grandmothers’s lived to their nineties. Both of them held my older daughter, their great-great-granddaughter. In fact, one of my great grandmothers attended my daughter’s third birthday. All of this means that I’m awfully sure that I’ll watch my husband decay mentally one day, then live for another decade or two. Sharp, right up to the end, which will just mean that I’ll remember every emotionally crippling moment of my beloved husbands decent. So, that whole watching someone lose their mental capacity right before my eyes thing? It might be my final chapter.
Before we throw too big of a pity party for me, let me tell you that my husband is in his early thirties, showing no signs that this is actually going to happen, and I might get hit by a car tomorrow and die before him anyway. I really might, I read while I walk.
Well, I loved Flowers For Algernon. So did the kids, thank you very much. It was a beautiful story, and I cried right there in public.
Funny story about that play. At the start of it the main character, Charlie, is a mentally handicapped man. As such, his character behaved as someone of that mental condition would act. In some cases that was comedic. The rest of the audience laughed at some of his antics. I, who have had some small experience with people who suffer from disabilities, didn’t. In fact, I hated the other patrons a little. At the end of the play, when Charlie lost his small reprieve and sank back into his illness, not a damn soul in that theater was laughing.
I think that has a part in why we, as a society, seek out these stories. A sad story, one where everything doesn’t come out neatly, changes how we view the world. I think we’d all like to think that everything is going to work out for the best. I mean, it does in most stories, right? The lovers fall in love. The orphan finds a family. The poor man improves his position. The good guys win.
When is it, I wonder, that we realize that the good guys don’t always win? That sometimes life is just cruel? Life will teach us that lesson, over and over. But sometimes stories do too. Old Yeller, Where The Red Fern Grows, Forest Gump (the book), Boys On The Side. All of these are examples of horrible things happening for no good reason. The characters in these stories weren’t bad people. They were, in fact, often good people. They didn’t deserve to have their dogs die, or get sick.
No one deserves to have these things happen. You’re an adult, I don’t need to tell you that bad things happen to good people.
But in most cases, life goes on after the bad thing. Maybe not for everyone involved, but for some. After a death, or a fire, or a loss of a job, we have to keep on living. Groceries must be bought, carpets vacuumed, dishes washed.
In some cases, the bad thing is temporary and we have to fix it. A lost job, or a house burning down. When my older daughter was kidnapped. It was a bad, horrible, terrible thing. But it wasn’t the end, and I had work to do.
In other cases, the bad thing can only be accepted. A death is usually the most obvious example.
This, I think, is why I enjoy a sad story or a sad song. When these horrible things happen to us we must react. We must feel our emotions and we must grieve. We must cry, or scream. Throw ourselves on the ground, just break right down.
But eventually, we must get up, brush ourselves off, and keep on going. Otherwise, we become the bad thing that’s happening now to someone else. Either because we become impossible to love, or because we make the final decision to take our own lives. Let’s not do that.
Let’s just sing the sad songs, and make it better.