A friend recently invited me to her community theater’s production of Hello Dolly.
I tend to avoid musicals—too unrealistic for me. All that singing and dancing in the midst of poverty and despair is not how I remember the poor people in the neighborhood where I grew up or in neighborhoods where I have lived since.
When I saw Les Miserables, I remember thinking that most of the people in the theater would probably be afraid to walk through my neighborhood, yet they seemed to enjoy watching this upbeat depiction of oppression and wretchedness.
I worry that portraying poverty and human misery so light-heartedly can assuage the guilt of those who have the power to make societal changes. (Look how happy those poor people are; singing and dancing their way through despair—why change anything?)
But, to support my friend, I decided to move against my resistance and go see Hello Dolly.
This particular community theater is no-cut, so the cast was large and included people of all ages.
I quickly got caught up in the music, costumes and pageantry of the play. It was all quite cheerful, and I found myself smiling as I searched the faces of the cast for my friend.
At some point, though, I realized the story was about Dolly’s desire to move past grieving her husband’s death.
In one scene, Dolly says to her deceased husband, Let me go. It’s been long enough.
I, too, have sometimes felt chained to my past and have pleaded to be let go. I want to be set free and move ahead, but sometimes the link to the past is so strong that it seems inescapable.
And, it isn’t always a relationship that holds me back. Sometimes (and perhaps more often) it is an unhealthy or unrealistic belief about myself—my own lack of confidence—that can keep me trapped.
When Dolly sang, I’ve decided to join the human race again before the parade passes by, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes.
Then Dolly admitted that no one else’s life is mixed up with mine, and I felt found out and exposed.
Through this upbeat, light-hearted musical, this play was speaking deep truths to my soul and inviting me to examine the current state of my life and just how free I am.
Am I open to mixing up my life with others? Or am I keeping to myself?
Am I participating in the human race? Or am I sitting on the sidelines?
Is the parade passing me by?
Grief can take on a life of its own, and great loss can make it difficult to re-enter life fully. But, I know it is possible, and Hello Dolly invited me to let go and live more fully.
Perhaps Les Miserables and other musicals portraying oppression and poverty work the same way on those who have the capacity to effect social change, exposing vulnerabilities and offering insight for transformation. Maybe I judged too harshly.