It’s true. Stephen Sondheim knows the truth, but the rest of us struggle with it.
Sometimes I wish life were as simple as it is scripted to be in a musical. What isn’t resolved in the course of an hour and a half is reflected upon in a lovely, cathartic swarm of melody, and one always leaves with a little bit better sense of the world. This is of course, precisely why I am no longer acting; it’s easy to get swept away in the imaginary world.
This morning my Grandmother ended up in the hospital complaining of hip pains; I saw her this afternoon, with a tube in her nose and an IV drip in her arm, just as bright and bubbly as ever. And I sat there, on the awkwardly square hospital couch (the dreadful ones you find in generic offices and waiting areas that simply repel everyone who dares attempt sitting down), listening to her stories (she tells the best stories) and trying to pretend that everything was normal.
I had been away from home for two weeks, and when my father picked me up from the airport a few days ago, I wasn’t happy to see him. He hadn’t changed, I hadn’t changed, the house hadn’t changed. Everything was just as it was when I left it. Physically, all the elements were the same. I had grown so tired of the same environment. I wanted to go back somewhere that was prettier, brighter, lighter. I didn’t like my family messing with my world, this world I created for myself, where I am strong and people love me and respect me.
I thought about this as I sat cross legged on that couch, watching the nurse inject borderline toxic chemicals into my Grandmother’s veins, my Grandmother, who by the Grace of God gave life to my father, who raised me and is in every way responsible for who and where I am today. I watched him as he drank his juice, battling a cold, emailing his brothers and sisters to maintain updates on Grannamae’s condition.
I’m not sure what to do. I recall seeing my mother a few times in a hospital bed as a much younger girl, and feeling frightened, but I think most children are terribly frightened of hospitals. Yet as I walked in the lobby of Baptist Memorial, I felt a strange sense of calm–or perhaps it was just determination in being present as our questions are answered as to the state of her health. Either way, I took myself up the elevator, into her hospital room, delivered my food, and plopped myself onto the furniture ready to be an active listener and an operative family member, eagerly looking for opportunity to administer medicine or laughter. But I did neither. I merely sat, quietly, and listened, and smiled. When I left, I hugged her and waved goodbye to the rest.
I think I got my sense of imagination from my Grandmother. If you read her blog, you’ll understand. She passed on her immense passion for the creative to her children, who in turn passed it on to me. It has been the biggest blessing, and sometimes curse, I’ve endured thus far. The more stories I hear from her, the more I understand an essential part of myself–the part that stops and stares into the sky, searching first for Venus, then Mars, then the Big Dipper. The part that takes pictures of food as if trying to preserve tastes and textures, wondering which amalgamation of flavors is on my plate this time. The part that looks at babies and marvels at all the innocence and purity therein.
It’s frightful to realize the fragility of cursory life. But I think it’s necessary. I am a child, and I don’t listen nearly enough. But I am trying. And I will try, and I will make a better effort to listen to my Grandmother’s stories just as I listen to the wind at night, to the rain outside my window, to violins and flutes and songs. And it’s true, that you can learn an awful lot when you close your mouth and just listen.