Monday, December 17, 2012

Looking Into the Woods for Answers to Tough Questions

My first trip to Toby's Dinner Theatre was a seventh grade field trip to see "Into the Woods". I don't know if it was related to our English curriculum our our music class, but I know teachers decided we should see it, that we'd learn from it. On that field trip, I fell in love with musical theatre, especially this musical. I love so many things about the show, but the song lyrics top the list. They come to mind often.

As I got ready this morning my mind raced, the worries accumulating to the point of perseveration, then suddenly I heard the Baker sing "No more questions. No more lies."

The Baker and the Mysterious Man go back and forth, and in the end the Baker asks something I've asked myself during many times of sorrow and pain. He wonders why we can't just live easy, happy lives, ignoring the bad stuff, not wondering when the other shoe will drop.

Then I remembered the answer, the one that comes from Cinderella's mother. She sings, "No one is alone." After Cinderella and the Baker work through the Baker's feelings about his father and the other curses in his life, she explains:

No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what's good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.
People make mistakes.
Fathers, mothers, people make mistakes.
Holding to their own, thinking they're alone.
Honor their mistakes; everybody makes.
Witches can be right, giants can be good.
You decide what's right. You decide what's good.
Just remember
Someone is on your side, our side.
Someone else is not.
While we're seeing our side,
Maybe we forgot: they are not alone.

Yes, she's right. When we're seeing our side, we tend to forget those on the other side are actually connected to us. In a lot of ways, they are us and we are them.

In the Finale, the cast comes through to remind us of their individual journeys. The Baker frets over raising his child without his wife, and her ghost reminds him that he is not alone. The Baker begins to tell his baby a story, and the Witch sings a caution that children will listen:

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see
And learn.
Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say, 
"Listen to me".
Children will listen.

Careful the tale you tell;
That is the spell.
Children will listen.

As the song blends into a reprise of "Into the Woods", everyone sings about what they've learned about navigating tough times:

Though it's fearful,
Though it's deep and it's dark
 and you may lose the path
Though you may encounter wolves
You can't just act
You have to listen
You have to think

I just think the power of this show is the emotional wisdom it imparts through familiar stories. These lyrics are poignantly relevant as we collectively figure out what to say to our children in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. We will be making plans, policies and laws to prevent as much further gun violence as possible. I hope we do so in ways that instead of teaching children "the world is scary and bad so we must always protect ourselves", will tell them "the world is peaceful and loving, so let's keep it up together."


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