Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Particular Joys (A Thank You to Theater)

I crept back behind the rows of packed chairs and hovered in the corner of the black box theater. I knew my light cue. I knew my sound cue. I knew my lines. I smoothed my crinkly blue dress and shifted from side to side with my stack of books. The song right before my entrance sounded strangely echoing from my hiding place, but as it faded away, I took a deep breath. And then came the cue, and trembling, I walked forward and into my scene.

And when I am onstage somehow fear melts into the audience, into the lights, into the floor under my feet.  I become the person who drops her books, who loves the Green Lantern above every other superhero, who knows Calvin Coolidge from their American politics class.

I want to remind myself why there are some very particular joys in life that maybe are just gifts from the good Giver. Like theater. I'm not a theater major. I'm not pursuing it in a formal way. I'm not very good at creating characters who are extremely different from me - but I have a knack for pouring my own quivering heart into the characters on the page.

And that was last night - somehow there is a particular joy hidden for me in the theater. It's this joy of putting myself onto the stage and freeing her from her expectations. She does not need to do what I expect her to do. She can surprise us all - love superheroes with a passion, say "Crap!" when she drops her books, talk to a guy she meets in a park... She can not feel worried about how she looks in the blue dress. She can not feel worried about whether or not she's missed a meeting or a deadline or a paper.

I love creating this character and letting her teach my own self something. I love falling on the stage in front of the audience. I love the joy that surges through your bones when you look around you and you realize you've created a world for these wonderful people and that this world is the point, this collective creation, this trembling in our shoes together.

There is particular joy for me in theater. There is in solving calculus problems. There is in singing "La Vie en Rose" by Edith Piaf. There is in finally solving a stoichiometry problem and predicting the outcome of a double replacement reaction in chemistry. There is in sitting with a group of people and talking about Flannery O'Connor.
(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)
In each of these particular joys I've discovered that all I want when I'm there is to be there. That I'm not yearning for a floodlight into the future. That I'm not trying to meet an expectation. That I'm not (most of the time) criticizing myself for not being good enough at it. That I shed the backpack of insecurities and trip onstage and trust that God is pleased with the simpler fact of me existing.

Gilead taught me this, too. I was reading it before I went onstage. John Ames seemed to look at me in the book and write his words as if he was looking at me:

"So I looked down at the yard and there you were, you and your mother, blowing bubbles at the cat, such a barrage of them that the poor beast was beside herself at the glut of opportunity. She was actually leaping in the air, our insouciant Soapy! Some of the bubbles drifted up through the branches, even above the trees. You two were too intent on the cat to see the celestial consequences of your worldly endeavors. They were very lovely. Your mother is wearing her blue dress and you are wearing your red shirt and you were kneeling on the ground together with Soapy between and that effulgence of bubbles rising, and so much laughter. Ah, this life, this world." (page 9)

Ah, this life, this world. What a beautiful phrase. Can you imagine if we lived aware of its loveliness?

I think that might be what the particular joy is for me - a moment of living, intense awareness of the loveliness of this world and all of its mysteries. A moment when the future and the past fall into silence and the roar of the present, the heart-stopping beauty of the present, the ache and groan of the present, becomes the only thing I can hear.

I wonder, is there a way to make everything that kind of particular joy? Is there a way to live in that heart-stopping beauty every moment?
(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff)



  1. I'm bummed I missed your performance!! And to have missed seeing you know His pleasure in your simply existing. But glad for you experiencing a particular joy :)

  2. I love this post. You're right, something about joy is glorying in being right where you are, and loving every moment of it. I was overwhelmed by those moments while we were in Italy. Sometimes it's a fight here to remember to notice, to silence the future-worryings and what-if brownies clamouring from the corners. Yet it is lovely. The world bursts with loveliness, bulges, stretches, grows with it. And when we plop ourselves down, deliberately and joyfully, right in the middle of a loveliness puddle, it spreads over the darkness, filling the cracks with laughter.


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