I recently spent several days in Canada, a mere 10-hour jaunt up the interstate, from home. As we got closer and closer, I found myself singing the Joni Mitchell song that I used to listen to (too much) while I lived in Bowling Green, Ohio, which is en route to Canada, oh Canada. At the time, somewhere around 1973, I was suffering from the sophomore/junior blues, which her Blue album seemed especially well suited to encourage. I also read the Narnia series that summer, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a number of Carlos Casteneda books, and it suddenly seemed very clear that no one knew what really mattered any more, or who they were (real-ly), or what the purpose of life was, let alone this college degree. So I hitchhiked out to California (which Joni has a song titled after as well) with a hippie friend, tried to find work, got the crabs from sleeping on someone’s couch–all night I kept dreaming that things were crawling on me–gave up on California dreamin and hitchhiked home by myself, and my little dog named Fawna.
Having accomplished so little that summer except an experience I didn’t want to repeat but which provided good story-fodder, I got my proverbial stuff together and got down to the business of getting my first degree. I don’t know that I stopped listening to Blue, but I was not so blue anymore so I doubt it. I do have a fine assortment of music from that era, on LPs–jazz, bluegrass, blues, folk. So let’s say I was listening to Gil Evans or Bonnie Raitt or the Beatles or Miles Davis. It was 1974-5 and Saturday Night Fever was still 3 years away.
Fast forward 39 years. Summer of 2013. A trip to Canada, your face sketched. A road trip. An old song strumming through my mind as we headed toward London and I considered what I wanted to do during the days while my companion (in all ways) attended a conference on Edith Stein. Wasn’t Stratford nearby? Romeo and Juliet, sure! Ah, but wait, not showing in the afternoon. Instead, a 2pm showing of Fiddler on the Roof. I confess now that I had never seen the movie, the play, and had only heard the songs here and there. Of course I knew that Anthony Quinn played in the movie version, but I didn’t see what the big deal was.
I can look back across the years and see times, like what happened at Stratford, when for some reason or another I had a chance to see or read or listen to something I’d either spurned or overlooked as not interesting. The Beatles are another example. Whhaaa? What was I thinking! It was the girls screaming and fainting that turned me off. I would have none of it! Until one day we were driving and some tune came on the radio that completely flipped the switch. Fiddler, same thing. “Enh, whatever,” I might have said, “it’s just a musical.” But the performance I saw two weeks ago was transporting! I sat in my chair and cried and laughed, a smile on my face or stunned look of recognition. It was beautiful. As one reviewer put it in his closing paragraph, “Forget every Fiddler on the Roof you have seen. This is something special, a show that makes you laugh and cry. You’ll leave the theatre marvelling at the entertainment quality of the Stratford Festival at its best, yet pondering the essence of the human condition the show reveals underneath.” (Ouzounian)
So, somewhere along the way, I met myself from 40 years ago, met myself in the moment and lost myself too, transported somewhere else and returning only when the applause brought me back. I think the song that undid me most was “Sunrise, Sunset.” I thought of my boys, now men, the two still alive, and my one gone and so missed.
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?
It’s a good question–and I know there are many ways to ease others’ way, and I know as well, that in the end they must face their own Blue season and ride the wave as best they can. I hope they, like me, have the good sense to open themselves to experiences that are good and wonderful but that due to our other commitments or obsessions, we think are beneath us.