There’s a smell and a sound to it.
The chalky aroma of pancake make-up and slightly singed hair from curling irons.
The robust odor of people sweating under intense lights.
Slight decay and decades old musty mildew from ancient costumes.
From behind the curtain, the gentle murmur of hundreds of voices whispering in the dimly lit auditorium.
Young ladies and gentlemen humming their scales in warm-ups.
Consonants clicking and popping with various rhymes and verbal gymnastics.
The squeak and grinding of gears and sets.
And then the moment arrives. Instruments tune, a hush falls, and the whisper of the curtain drawing itself open to an overture.
I loved every minute of every show. From the three hours of preparation before to the hours afterwards. Fine tuning a fantasy until it came to life so realistically that the line between truth and fiction was blurred. I loved the auditions and the rehearsals, the endless hours painting and hanging lights and designing. I loved the theater. I loved it in a way that I never could describe or portray accurately enough.
The great craftsmen of musical theater had a gift for bringing the human experience to life. In some of my favorites, the very darkest shadows of the soul came to life. Carousel – the pain and twisted joy of an abusive marriage. West Side Story – gang violence and falling in love in an urban jungle despite the odds. Phantom of the Opera – sacrificing light for the sake of fame while watching your mentor crumble into insanity because of deformity. Les Miserables – war, vengeance, and a young mother abandoning her child. Even the Disney animated musicals from the 90s had this ability to capture the very essence of human existence. They told the simple truth that life is not fair, it is often ugly, but it is our Spirit that trumps those dark places. Light can always penetrate the darkness, and there is always a blessing to be found in love – however tragic it may be.
I miss it.
I can’t even say how much I miss it. I sing along to my favorite musicals, but it almost hurts to put the music in my playlists. When I hear the beginning bars of the Carousel waltz, my heart breaks for never having had a chance to sing those songs for an audience. When I hear “There’s a Place for Us,” one of my only regrets is that I never got to play Maria on stage.
That was my dream for the longest time. Playing Maria on Broadway. And only slightly less so? Singing as the voice for a Disney musical.
But times have changed. I’m older, I never made it in ‘the biz’ because I wasn’t splashy enough, wasn’t skinny enough, wasn’t *whatever* enough to cut it.
I never believed I would ever be enough to sing “I Feel Pretty” on the big stage.
But I think the beautiful thing about nostalgia, about hindsight and learning who I am… I know that feeling pretty isn’t about what others think about me. It’s about who I’m designed to be. The person that I was created to be. I was designed with a vision and a purpose. My dreams have significance and meaning. And I may never play Maria on Broadway, but I may just audition for some community theater when I return to the USA.
I may never be the image of a starlet that the world tells me I have to be in order to make it.
But I’m in the image of something far greater. Something that spoke worlds into being and whispers life into my own dreams. The music from West Side Story will never stop moving me, inspiring me, leading me to tears. And the truths in the lyrics will always rattle my sense of purpose:
There’s a place for us, a time and a place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.
Somehow, someday, somewhere
I’m taking time to learn how to follow the dreams that I have and to lead others into the hearts of their own. I may never stand on stage again, but I just might chase that dream someday. I’m consciously deciding each day to live and believe that I am more than enough. Whether I’m overweight or short, or not dressed properly.
I am precisely where I need to be.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there…
What dreams have you let go as you’ve gotten older? Do you ever have nostalgia or longing for them?
Do you dwell on all the ways you’re not ‘enough’ or do you allow yourself to be perfect exactly where you are?
Someone I care about is dying.
And I simply don’t want to imagine a world without him.
In life, we sometimes gain extra ‘family’ members along the way. Bob was this kind of a man to me. He was a spiritual and intellectual ‘father’ who helped me navigate my way to completion of my degree. He is compassionate, highly ethical, funny, gregarious, wise, challenging, and joyful. Really one of those rare gems who make the world a more wonderful place simply by existing.
The year was 1985. The album? Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston.
I was pretty young in 1985, only about 7 years old. I was precocious and wildly unpopular. I remember public school as an exercise in frustration and anger management. I would speak out in class, so they would place me at the Spanish-speaking table. Thus, I learned to swear in Spanish. Well, I must admit that the swearing wasn’t my intent, but I really liked to chat, and I really believed that I was learning normal conversation.
I read a great deal at that point in my life, mainly because I needed to escape. I was living through the heart of my parents’ divorce, and something inside me truly believed that it was my fault. I acted out, and had a really nasty habit of kicking people in the shins. When it came to school, I was a conundrum, because they would send me to 6th grade reading and social studies classes, but I was in remedial math and failing my handwriting course. I was normally alone during recess and lunch, even though there were certain ‘friends’ from my street. They mostly made a spectacle of me, and I had horrible self-esteem. I was in gymnastics, which offered some comfort, but I always felt that I was following my brother’s greatness. He did everything better than I did.
But there is one story that sparks things off, that really meant something to me. There was a bully in the school. A bigger boy, probably in the 5th or 6th grade. I can’t remember if I had been asked to leave the class because I was too chatty or if I was heading to the portable classrooms of my upper-level classes, but I was out on the asphalt of the playground. It was quiet. And I had to walk past this great, big bully. And I can remember shaking in my tiny trainers. I was a demon on the handball court, with loads of untapped anger and velocity behind my swings, but this was different. Here he was, here I was, and when I looked closer,