I don’t know when I first heard the phrase “the show must go on” but it was somewhere between singing with a Baptist Choir/Musical group in third grade (when I thought I was definitely cruising toward adulthood because I could swim in the deep end without my Mum around on the military base pool) and dancing my feet off in No, No, Nannette in 7th grade during summer in a sweltering California un-airconditioned theatre in a full wool ‘20s drop waist sweater. Yeah, cruel. But, the show must go on, eh? Human suffering be damned.
There’s something beautiful about pushing on through the muck and saying “the show must go on” except when the show is killing you. Or, slowly killing you. I came to this conclusion after three days of coughing my lungs out after an allergic reaction to something I ate (cross contamination at its finest) combined with months of aggregate exhaustion (I’m sure), poor sleeping habits, and running too hard for too long. I wanted to believe I could keep pushing my body, but that wise voice in my head was saying, “Is singing karaoke until midnight, really the best choice on a weeknight?”
Sure! Because it kept me from wallowing at home over my break-up (well, let’s count that as two break-ups from two lads I really fancied), losing a beloved pet who’s been with me my entire adult life and three global moves, working two jobs and having to tell one of them I couldn’t handle the workload and hoping I’d made the right decision, all despite my screaming body telling me something definitely had to give.
Grief and “powering through” are not good friends. Grief really demands its own type of justice and though I am very good at externally looking like I have my shit together; internally- and everyone who knows me well can see, that is not the case. It’s harder to grieve when you feel like you’ve been hurt by someone who was part of your circle of trust and it feels like they’ve exited stage left just before a duo together in front of a sold-out audience. No, all of that is swept away and you’re handed a different sheet of music, minutes before you appear on a different stage, in a different musical and you’re not entirely certain your scratchy throat can hold a tune any longer.
Because it’s all become too much.
I’m amazed at the American, even more so, the Southern capacity to go on in the face of serious setbacks. Yet I also understand people who feel they can’t go on and need to hunker down and have a time out. I’ve found I volley between extremes, which is natural, but not pleasant. I seem to be either very good at:
- running fifty miles per hour when faced with such colossal let-downs as to question the fabric of my ability to trust myself to,
- shutting completely down and only letting a small handful of friends into what is up.
Because grief has been my companion before, I decided to not let myself be alone this time.
As often as possible, I wanted to be out, doing things, working through the grief and not home letting the thought clouds circle like some evil Dementor out to get me. This was a good initial strategy. It did help me to go on, grade student essays, meet editing deadlines and finish revision # 4 of Orphan Pods.
Now, post holidays: I wish that I had been gentler with myself. There’s this lingering phrase at the back of my mind- the show doesn’t always need to go on.
Because, I’m not a show. I’m a person.
At the end of my life, no one is going to be rolling any credits. I won’t say to myself “Gosh I wish you’d stayed out late that night, or done that ….or…..” instead, I think I will wish I’d enjoyed my life just a little, but not at the expense of my health. From here I would like to go gracefully into the future, not rocketing forward without any brakes, attempting to “grin and bear it.” I’d like to be able to ponder what it is to lose a lot, more than I ever expected, in such a short amount of time and to not blame myself for that loss. That will require some powerful meditation, prayer, walking, and time to talk one-on-one with loved ones.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a related topic: how a lot of the catastrophes in our life aren’t our fault. They’re often the results of choices others have made. Sometimes, in an attempt to create control (when so little is in our control) self-blame can be very convenient. I’d like to instead do a certain measure of non-judgmental observation. Look at my choices, observe where other’s choices affect me and simply let those observations be there in the ether without having to label or judge them. Instead of seeing us in a cosmic drama where one of us has to win, there isn’t any winning, just the two of us being.
We leave the stage, instead, for a much more realistic forest. The tree cover is thick, ferns aplenty and a mist obscures the distance. If I keep moving forward, at whatever pace I can handle today, I’m able to see the sunlight peeking through the mist. It’s radiant, but it isn’t dependent on me doing a particular tap dance. No, it’s always there. Sometimes I just have to wait and be patient for the mist to move.
I hope that we’ll be more mindful of our needs in this new, beautiful year. Instead of feeling like the show has to always go on, I hope that we’ll occasionally take rain checks and wander through the forest instead, content to harmonize with ourselves and find balance in all the seasons of our lives. I think we all need moments of pausing, even daily. Our art often demands it, but more importantly our souls require that introspection and connection with our deepest needs.