A small outdoor theatre, Elizabethan style as if from the days of Shakespeare. The seating is clustered around the stage. Under an evening of stars, crisp, clear air, snuggled under a blanket with a canteen of warm liquid, the atmosphere sets the stage for a heart open to the sonnets of inspiration.
Plays, concerts, recitals, haunted houses, Easter/Christmas services and one high school baccalaureate, this place welcomes all ages. On stage, the theatre has become a backdrop to the stories played out in our lives. Transformed, the stage brings out tears, laughter, thought-provoking dialog, a dance and a smile. I have performed on stage once, been in the audience too many times to count, have spent countless hours cleaning and last year rose to welcome, with open arms, new believers into the Kingdom of God. As if the prelude to chapters written, from dawn to dusk, the seats out front sing songs of hope.
As fabulous as the on-stage production is, it is the back-stage atmosphere that calls me to write. The stories behind the scenes are filled with mystery, intrigue, adventure and romance. I don’t think I have enough adjectives to adequately describe the physical appearance of back stage. There are at least four levels… The top most level provides access to lighting; it contains wall-mounted ladders, ropes and pulleys. Working downward, the next level houses second story dressing rooms. Tucked and hidden are rooms with mirrors, lights, counters for make-up and brushes and racks for costumes. The third level is the base. Stage right and stage left, this is where most of the action takes place. Adrenaline racing, the dancer emerges through the curtain for all to see. Out front, the audience decides the verdict; is it a good show?
The most intriguing place for me, however, is the atmosphere far below the stage. Here are long narrow concrete hallways that lead upwards. It feels, to me, industrial, primitive, barren, stripped away of beauty; this is where the story is written. Stories created out of the dust of nothing. There is a script the actors carry out followed by the interpretation of the director who leads but it is the solitude of the actress who longs for the staring role that captivates me.
These corridors are gray concrete with a rough texture. There are big black chords for music, duck tape keeping extension chords in place and generators breathing in and out for fog and ventilation. An actor steps subtly and mysteriously on to the stage. There are at least four black steps hiding his/her entrance. Usually to a song that builds, the appearance can be dramatic, haunting, exhilarating, inspirational, comedic, melancholic or one of love. Whether the entrance on stage is through curtains at the main level or hoisted down from above or stepping up from below, the audience anticipates the story about to be told.
There is something innocent and hopeful about children; it is no wonder that Jesus calls us to a childlike faith.
Some friendships are just rare. There is a word in Italian, “simpatico”, where people just “get” each other. It is a deep bond in the spirit where words are not necessary but sometimes come in handy. My youngest daughter, having grown up on a field or court watching her older brother play sports, had developed a friendship with another boy (a family friend) who stood in the same predicament of watching older siblings play sports. Both his mother and I were pregnant at the same time; in fact, we met at Karate watching our sons compete. From the time they were born, they had a bond of being shuffled around. Living in car seats, they were dragged to all sorts of events; this began a friendship.
Fast forward to a conversation I listened in on between them when they were perhaps five years old. It took place on a dusty baseball field in the spring. Like a “fly on the wall”, I listened in on three kids: (A) my daughter, (B) our friend (a boy) and (C) a random boy I had never seen before.
(C) began taunting (A) to get her to come chase him. Words, words, words, he was trying to get her to engage in dialog. I admired his tenacity and persistence but my daughter was not budging. She had no intention of chasing, playing or interacting with this boy. With each plea, she dug her heels in deeper. He clearly did not understand the emotional strength of my daughter.
For ten minutes, I watched our little friend (B) and his non-verbal communication. He moved from shuffling his little feet in the dirt to twirling a piece of the back of his boy-cut hair. I could almost feel the tension in his silence. It was chivalry among Kindergarten kids. He knew my daughter well enough to know she could take care of herself while at the same time, wanting to step in and defend her. Finally, the fireworks hit. My daughter, in her exasperation, said to boy (C) “Why don’t you just go jump in the lake. Boy (C) still responded with something about swimming and lakes. Our friend (B) had had enough. In his strong Kindergarten voice said, “My friend has a point! ”. It worked. Boy (C) left with no further words. There were no words of gratitude exchanged between my daughter and our friend that day.
To me, however, it continues to teach me a lot about life. It speaks to my heart about trust, friendship and love. Inherently different, a man wants to defend the woman he loves out of a deep and abiding love where the language is one built on trust, innocence and a language intimately theirs. This is important to me because the bible begins with a dialog about the relationship between a man and woman on the sixth day where a rib is taken from Adam’s ribcage in order to make Eve.
I don’t think it is by accident that Jesus calls us to a childlike faith, untainted by the scripts of life. He calls us to the dark, hidden corridors of our hearts and asks us to step onto the stage where the light and the song begin to emerge.
Behind the Scenes:
Where words fail, pictures speak. Each and every detail of an event for 200 people last month matched my imagination. It was a storybook evening with twinkling lights, white linen, china and flowers. Burlap table runners and pewter colored chargers, there were white sheer bows tied to chairs. The fragrance was a hint of flowers mixed with the aroma of wine since it was in a wine barrel room. The ambiance of twinkle-lit trees in homemade planter boxes and pictures timed to music created a magical evening. There was even an element of the unexpected amid the expected. That was the scene on stage.
There was a “behind the scenes” show and I played a key role.
I can live in the abstract and symbolic but the tangible is where the story is told. This year has been one of redemption, trust and surrender. In June, I agreed to chair an event. It took nine months to plan and thanks to two key mothers, the event was a success. In July of the same year, I agreed to go back into ministry as a volunteer youth worker despite having a demanding full-time job. There are too many stories to tell but each step of the way God was chiseling away at my character.
This year was also a surgery year. In November, I was supposed to have a 6-8 week recovery time from work. I thought I would catch up on photo books and work on the details of an event. God thought He would work on a story in me, instead. The tension mounted. Being responsible, I succumbed to the panic of my boss’s voice that needed me to complete a State computer deadline on our student software attendance program so for two days, week #3 of surgery, I cried over the complexity of it but hobbled along completing it in a timely manner.
Bored with HGTV, I also tuned into ESPN watching football and a few 30 for 30 episodes. At the same time, I updated my Yahoo page to include 4-5 football, baseball and basketball teams to follow. I chose Villanova to win college basketball. Hearing that Kentucky, Arizona and Duke might be contenders, I entered them too on the radar screen; not watching the games but just keeping the scores in my peripheral vision, I kept notice.
Then a conversation took place.
Countdown: it was the Sunday afternoon before the big event. I was supposed to be working on converting the pixels of three small picture files into larger ones suitable for transformation into poster sized images to be dropped off at Costco for a quick turnaround. Another deadline loomed. Panic was seeping into my responsible bones. I pulled into the parking lot and had a very random thought… I should call my biological father, a man I rarely see and talk to only once a year. What the he…. ck? Nothing else in my life seems to be going as planned, so I call.
I’m not sure what changed. Whether it was my attitude or his age but basketball and Kentucky were the code words for forgiveness. We laughed and talked scores and players, life and travel. We talked for almost an hour. He didn’t want to get off the phone. I was pleasantly surprised by the conversation.
He seemed to be remorseful, not for the only two times he came to visit (one was for my wedding) but that when he did, he had to beat everyone in a game of basketball. He said the winning was just not that important anymore. Funny- I had forgotten about that but it is true, he always had to beat all of us at the net; I get my competitive spirit honestly.
Childlike faith: there is a small boy and a small girl called to the day of Easter. The table is set with Nana’s finest china. The porcelain is a delicate white with a faint grey-blue flower around the perimeter. You know it is a special day because the crisp white linen napkins rather than paper ones are set to the right side of the plate. The finest monogramed silver has been polished and placed. A small cluster of white flowers adorns the centerpiece.
The smells of freshly baked pies, homemade raviolis, and a turkey in the oven fills the air. A variety of lunchmeats and cheeses have been placed on trays. Fresh Italian focaccia bought at the family-owned shop since 1911 has been purchased from San Francisco. That, in it-self, has taken careful preparation. It now sits above the refrigerator in a single layer with wax paper over the top.
The boy and girl are already dressed in their Sunday best. He has neatly pressed pants, a shirt and a clip-on tie. She has a new dress, black shiny shoes and her hair is neatly gathered with a cluster of curls. They must busy themselves being careful to not wrinkle or mess up their clothes or the house before the guests arrive.
The girl asks Nana if she and the boy can get into the china cabinet if they are very, very careful. Years of love and observation, she knows her granddaughter’s character and agrees. The boy and the girl carefully take out a glass turtle imported from a far away land. Together, they admire it’s beauty and imagine the stories that brought it there. They carefully re-place it on the shelf and close the door.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.