I’ve been reading (and looking) at a lot of books and pictures lately. I was inspired to go out with nothing but prime lenses and just take pictures of what’s around me. Sooner or later this pandemic will be under control and life will be back to some sort of normalcy. I am struck by how photographers like Diane Arbus and Don McCullin, who took very different types of pictures in very different types of environments captured the humanity of the world they were in. There is dignity in all of us, no matter what our plight and circumstances may be. So last Saturday afternoon, I just went out and took pictures of the world around me. I think that every once in a while, we just need to see the world and remember what it is that makes it whole. Not the grand things. Just every day things.
For people who love musicals, the hashtag above will be familiar. It is so fitting that at the moment of great loss, I found meaning in music. My first distinct memory of my mother was watching “The Sound of Music” so many years ago. When I posted the last entry on this blog, I was on my way to Manila to bring my mother back home from her vacation. Her cancer came back, and unlike the saying, the third time was not the charm.
It’s hard to imagine what happens when the music that has ruled your life suddenly disappears. It is an empty feeling when your world is devoid of the person who raised you, who understood you, who cared for you. The person who knew you first, the person who felt my heart beat for the first time. The person who taught me that honesty and truth were the important ideals in life. That love, among all the things that we can give to another, is the greatest gift of all. It is so easy to think that all that we have will always be with us. And truth be told, if we lose a lot of the things that we have, we will not be missing anything at all.
That is almost true. The thing is, we are nothing without the people who care for us. And the people that we care for. Why is it that a child with almost nothing at all, in the warm embrace of her mother or father has a smile so broad that in that instant, the world lights up as if a meteor is streaking through the sky. The warmth that love brings is the one thing that truly makes our lives complete. We can look to the skies for inspiration. With love in our lives, we need only look at our hearts to find that a simple look, a simple smile, a single touch is enough to lift our souls to the heavens.
And so it was in May that the person who saw me as I am finally joined the husband that she lost more than a decade ago. In that moment, her spirit joined the spirit of my father and together, I imagine that they look down upon me and in their corporal form, the same love that bore their son fill the heavens, magnified by the love of the countless multitudes who came before them. Love free of the boundaries of time and space.
I say to myself that as long as I remember, as long as I feel, they are never truly gone. The truth is, life for those who lose someone truly dear will never be the same. Life is altered forever. And yet, it does not have to be a life without meaning. Different yes. Meaningless? No.
And so it was that I happened upon the music that keeps playing in my head. It is in an endless loop. Not that it mutes everything else in life. Rather, the music gives one the clarity to understand that as long as we live, there is always a place for us to find love. We need not wait for someone to embrace us. The gift of love is best manifested when we share it with another. And so, in the loneliness and emptiness that death can bring, it is the act of giving one’s self to another that allows us to find life anew.
Accept people as they are. Find the good in all and in so doing we find the good in ourselves. “I never dreamed that I would find someone like you who would want me.” For many of us, we have already lived the dream. Loving parents that nurtured us, cared for us. We have been found, in the very first moments of our existence.
And now, it is up to us to find the meaning of the hashtag “youwillbefound.” It’s not about being alone. It is about realizing that we are never really alone. There will always be someone who will love us. We are, after all, created out of love. We are all children of love that is infinite.
And so, thank you Evan Hansen. In the depths of sorrow, the wonderful music, the incredible story, the beautiful words reminded me that there is so much to live for. No one is truly alone. #youwillbefound.
A note about Dear Evan Hansen. This is the best musical I have seen in years. Dare I say that it might be my favorite musical written in the last thirty five years. Yes, this includes Les Miserables, Phantom, Hamilton, Rent, etc. A lot of great music to be sure, but there is something about the vulnerabilities that the characters in this show exhibit that we as human beings can understand. And relate to. We all have fears, moments of doubt. Sometimes, no, often times, we need to let others into our lives. To heal us. To love us.
On the Saturday matinee, Michael Lee Brown played the part of Evan Hansen. A fantastic Evan! And Mallory Bechtel as Zoe was adorable and wonderful. This is the show to watch in New York. And now that it is about to embark on its first American tour, I hope that you are able to watch this wonderful musical. Pasek and Paul are the new dynamic duo in the musical universe. The play by Steven Levenson is exceptional. Two and a half hours of laughter, sorrow, empathy, and hope. Yes, hope. The core of this show is hope. Forgiveness. And love.
You are not alone. You will be found.
Late at night, one of the most photographed places on the planet.
Almost every city has one. And in New York, blocks away from the financial district, blocks away from the Freedom Tower, people live lives in a world familiar to me. Vegetables and other produce neatly arranged in stalls, perused by eagle eyed shoppers; the aroma of freshly cooked food punctuating the cold autumn air. A trek through a neighborhood that while not quite the America of the town centers, is still unmistakably American. A reminder of the diversity, almost uniquely American, that makes this country a great nation.
Ethnic neighborhoods still dot the cities and towns we live in, but underneath it all is the common thread that binds us all. We are different and yet we are the same. It doesn’t mean that we need to sublimate cultures to create a homogeneous whole. Who wants to look at a grey wall? We do need to understand, however, that maintaining a separate identity, a separate belief system is not the best way for people to understand one another. If we are to be one, we need a common sense of purpose, a common goal, a common dream. To better one’s self but not at the expense of others. To work hard, to reap the benefits of hard work; not to expect things to be handed to you, but always willing to help others when help is needed. We may not all look alike, but we share the same mitochondrial DNA from some ancient Eve.
Share what you have. Share what you know. Do not be afraid to learn. Forget your preconceptions. When you understand others, you understand yourself.