Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rent, Aging, AIDS, Cancer

I went to see a community theatre production of Rent last night. I went alone- made friends with the couple sitting next to me. He had seen the show 5 times on Broadway; his partner hadn't ever seen it live. This was my first time seeing it live as well.

Rent came out in 1996. I remember hearing about it. I was in college. The show premiered the night after the creator, Jonathan Larson, died. It was amazingly tragic but also poetic, given the message of the production. No day but today.

The musical powerfully focuses on AIDS, poverty, homelessness, drugs, sex. Love, loss, acceptance, struggle, art.

The songs are lyrical and moving.

As a college student, the debut of Rent was powerful because it symbolized, demonstrated what we were soon to face. What we were romanticizing we would soon face. The struggles of young adulthood. Clinging to what we want, wanting to change the world, facing the realities of life and death and hard choices.

As many of you know, I've been involved with the Graddy Family since June 29.

A mother of 4 young children. Diagnosed with breast cancer on June 5. Died July 2.

Her husband is now a single dad. 10 year old Chris is autistic. 5 year old Katie starts Kindergarten this year. Olivia is 4... Jack only 2 years old. The widower, Tim, went from his normal life of going to work as a co-manager of a grocery store... his wife at home and caring for their children, running an in-home daycare. Going to bed at night with her by his side, waking each morning with her by his side.

10 years ago, life was interrupted by AIDS.

10 years ago, life was focused on helping those who struggle, defending and participating in art.

Now, life is children, marriage, home, church, job.

My next door neighbor just passed away last week. He was 52 years old. He had ALS.

Michele died from cancer- breast cancer that had taken over lymph nodes, lungs, brain.

No day but today.

I've heard people dismiss Rent as a show about a bunch of whiny, do-nothing young people who just don't want to take responsibility and pay bills and work. I'd venture the naysayers haven't seen the show- at most, have listened to a couple of songs from the soundtrack.

As I sat watching Rent unfold on the stage before me, I was struck with how different the experience was for me.

It's always been a show that hearkens back to my youth. To the days of fight and struggle and doing what's right and "screw the man."

Now, as an almost-35 year old mom, wife, living in the 'burbs woman...

I wanted to mother the young people who struggled with not having heat or electricity or food. I want to wrap my arms around the drug addicts, the kids living with AIDS, dying from AIDS.

The show has a character who dies from AIDS. She's full of life and giving. She finds love months before she dies and teaches the lesson that love is what really matters. Finding it, fighting for it, protecting it.

And I realized that AIDS was the fight of my youth. AIDS was scary back when Rent debuted. It still is- but research and education make it less so.

Cancer is the fight of my adulthood. And as time passes... death in general is the fight.

I've long believed that life has to be lived in the moment. As a survivor of some pretty severe sexual abuse in my childhood, part of my healing was recognizing that what was in my past was behind me and was no longer a threat to me right now. That all I had was right now. I can't now what is going to happen in the next year, month, week, 24 hours, 1 hour. All I have is right now. And if I'm ok right now- then that means I am ok. If I am happy right now- then I am happy. There is no need to focus on what happened in my past- it's over and done. There is no need to fret about the future- it hasn't happened yet.

No day but today.

This is what I have. Today. Today is when I have to show the people in my life that I love them. Today is when I hug, I love, I kiss, I don't hold back.

No Day But Today

Without You

Seasons of Love

"How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?"

"Oh you got to, you got to remember the love

You know that love is a gift from up above

Share love, give love, spread love

Measure, measure your life in love."


Amy said...

I saw Rent in the late '90s and while I enjoyed the music, I fell into the what a bunch of lazy whiners camp. I was married and working a full-time job and the experience of the actors was far removed from my own experience. I wonder what I would think now?

Call Me Cate said...

Beautiful post. My husband saw Rent in London and was touched by it. My first introduction was the movie version, which was alright and I enjoyed it but it didn't really move me.

This past Spring, I had the opportunity to see it live (and starring the original Mark and Roger - Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal). It was amazing. I don't even know how else to say it. I saw it with completely new eyes and it really spoke to me.

I didn't see them as whiny slackers - I saw them as a way of life foreign to my own but so filled with passion and love and friendship and optimism and fighting for what they want and believed.

Thanks for the post today reminding me of all those things.

Garret said...

Poetic post. Yeah, that's all I got.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought Rent was incredibly underrated, as far as musicals go. It has such a beautiful, yet heartbreaking message! I would love to see it live again!

Joanna Jenkins said...

I saw Rent on Broadway years ago. This post makes me want to go back and be reminded of the meaning and the music.
Thank you for a very well written reminder!

Teacher Tom said...