Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day 112: Of Gods and Babies

I saw Sondheim on Sondheim last night, a theatrical/musical evening's worship of the greatest living creator of the American Musical Theater.  (I contemplated using the word "arguably", but I'm not sure I think that is actually an arguable point). They even had a song in the show singing about how Sondheim is "god". 

Interspersed between the mostly stellar performances of his music are video clips of Sondheim talking about his life and work.  At one point he says that he regrets not having had children, but that art and teaching are the other ways to fill that need; that the shows you write are your babies that you send out into the world.  (He stole my line!).

I decided I didn't want children several years before I started trying to "give birth" to a play.  There were many reasons, one being that I feared I might resent a child for taking time away from my opera career, and another being that my teaching satisfied a lot of my urges to have an effect on future generations.  Inherent in our human nature seems to be a desire for our lives to have meaning; to feel that we have made a difference; to live on past our death somehow.  Having children is a very clear way to do that.  But if you don't have children, how to accomplish that is a little more nebulous.  How do you know that you living has mattered?  For me, teaching is the best way to do that -- I am able to influence and shape other people, without having to change any of their diapers. 

It is very egotistical to want to leave a mark, to want our lives to have meaning.  My boyfriend is fond of reminding me that the world will continue to turn without me (when trying to convince me it's ok to take a break).  Indeed, the world will continue to turn without me, just as it would without Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey or even Stephen Sondheim.  That's what the world does, it keeps turning.  Life goes on.  People adapt.  That is what has allowed us to take over the planet - along with rats and cockroaches and pigeons - our incredible ability to adapt.

Given that on a very fundamental level the world will continue to turn without any one of us, I think the real question is how do we want to feel about how we live our lives?  I can't control whether or not people will remember me.  Even if I had children, I couldn't be sure the world would remember me much further down the line.  The one thing that is within my control is how I feel about how I live my life.  If I have the opportunity to look over my life from my deathbed, I want to feel I lived my life big: experienced a lot and gave a lot; fed heartily from the buffet but also planted a lot of seeds.  I'm glad to say that even now, I feel that way (most of the time).  In the midst of my pangs at not being on the stage last night, I remembered I got to perform the role of Desiree (in Sondheim's masterpiece A Little Night Music).  Not on Broadway, but I did get to perform it.  Not many can say that.  I've had so many amazing experiences, and I have done my best to give a lot -- with my teaching, my performing, my Reiki, by trying to be generous with my family and friends and even with strangers.  Is the world any different yet for my having been here?  Maybe not, but certainly some individual people's lives are different.  Just as mine is different because of certain people.

Who in your life has affected you the most?  Don't think about it -- just blurt out the names of the first people who come to your mind.  When I did this in my journal last night, my list only had one famous person on it.  Far more than half of them are teachers.  Even if I'm never famous, maybe, just maybe, some day I'll have the honor of being on someone's list.  There is some ego there, sure, but it is also my way of feeling that I have earned the carbon footprint I take up on this earth.  It's how I want to feel about my life - that I've not only lived well for myself, but that I've made other people's lives better.
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