Woke a few minutes before 5:00 AM. I sat up, reflecting back on a dream, in which an old acquaintance, Eilana, showed up. She and I used to sit around backstage at San Jose Opera Theater when we were just aspiring divas. The dreamscape was she and I in a house, and I was noting the differences between our lives. Eilana has become a star in the opera world, performing roles at major houses to the tune of some terrific reviews.
I couldn’t go back to sleep. I got up to go to the bathroom, turned on a light. My husband, Jim, was stirring in the bed, and asked “Hon, are you OK?.”
“Yeah, I’m all right . . . ” I said. I started thinking about the dream again and a recent conversation with a local friend whose health issues threaten to get in the way of her recording and performing. An alarm bell sounded that I haven’t performed much the past year, too caught up with teaching and community projects while struggling to find a balance between mentoring others, and birthing my own artistic work. Thoughts of live performance reminded me I want to work on my weight and I’m approaching 50, a phase of life that feels rather foreign to me as a performer. In short, I began to feel the weight of life – shades of Joseph Campbell’s “unbearable sorrow”, without “joyful participation.”
How is it we come to do this journey with little idea of why we’re here? I suddenly felt this crushing sadness for all of us, but specifically for my friend who is bogged down. How could someone with so much raw talent like hers end up thwarted? Where was her help, her plan, her guidebook? Why do we come in with gifts and abilities to develop, and yet at times, fail so miserably?
Meanwhile, Jim got up to go to the bathroom, and asked “hon, are you sure you’re OK? What’s wrong?”
I said, “No, I’m fine, just awake and thinking . . . ” Tears came to my eyes and I realized how precarious life can be, and sometimes sorrow feels like a white-hot place that we almost dare not touch. Why do some of us seem to walk a path so near it, while others never sense it at all?
Jim came out of the bathroom and as he was walking down the hall, he asked again in a sleepy voice “Are you OK? Oh, you’re crying! Why are you crying?!”, handing me a tissue out of his pajama pocket.
And I said “well . . . I’m just feeling this sorrow about life, and how things turn out sometimes.”
He was squinting his sleepy eyes at me, but trying to listen.
I continued. “I had this dream about this gal from the Opera Theater days, and she’s famous, rich, beautiful; and it makes me wonder. Do we end up with what we truly want at the end?“
I noticed that Jim had wandered off into the bathroom again, but was still saying “uh-huh? . . . Yeah?”
So I went on about how things do us in, how we do ourselves in, how I feel a bit “stuck” lately. We’re all getting older, and life is getting away from us. Who’s to say what any of this life means? What’s the measuring stick of success in life? I shed a few more tears, blew my nose, and looked up.
Jim had walked out of the bathroom, and was digging in his ear with a Q-tip, standing there, looking at me.
I just shook my head, and said “Jim, you’re not present for this right now . . . ”
He reacted with “well, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! . . . but I’m only half awake.”
“Well, geez,” I said, “then don’t ask me if I’m all right. Go back to bed!”
He blinked, yawned and said “Well, I am kinda sleepy, hon . . . I’m just gonna lay back down for a few minutes . . . ZZz-zzz-zzz.”
While visions floated through my head of packed houses, roaring crowds, and scintillating reviews, I mused about where I went off course. I have a scruffy, surly and sleepy husband who stands in front of me cleaning his ears and yawning during my existential crisis – but nevertheless, caring. I thought to myself “This . . . THIS is MY unbearable sorrow!”
Yet it was so male, so human, slightly hysterical . . . and somehow bearable, I realized with a sigh and a grin.
I wonder if Eilana wakes up dreaming of how she could have had THIS, and where she went off course?
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