Some things should just hit you in the gut. They should be visceral. They should burrow into the deepest recesses of who you are, grab hold of you and not let go for awhile.
But not much does. It’s rare for something to be that emotional. I’m an adult. I’ve learned to temper my reactions and paper over the raw places so that it all appears placid and smooth. Sure there are times when anger, joy or other emotions emerge. There are times when tears flow, but even those moments are carefully controlled. As though there is something primal that is threatening to tear itself loose and run amok.
Truth be told: I’m an incredibly emotional person. Truth be told: the world is not kind to people who feel things deeply. So over time you learn to control, deny, repress and deflect the things you feel most intensely.
This was brought home to me in a surprising way this weekend. I attended a community theatre production of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. I first encountered it in high school and it’s a personal favorite. Most critics cite themes of politics, justice, and ownership when they think of Chalk Circle. Those are important themes, but they’re not the most important.
For me, the central question of the play is this: what does it mean to be a parent? Is motherhood/fatherhood about biology or is it about a relationship, nurturing a life, and sacrificially loving a child?
Friday night, as the trial and test that are the climax of the play unfolded (you’ve just got to read the play; or better yet – go see it!), those questions were driven home to me again.
And I was in tears.
In that moment I was six years old, feeling alone and abandoned as my parent’s marriage fell apart. I was eleven years old, struggling to understand who I was, where I belonged, and why I didn’t seem to fit anywhere. And I was sixteen years old, walking away from a relationship with a parent that I thought I didn’t need and didn’t want.
By the time the final scene was over, I felt like I got punched in the stomach. All of my carefully constructed defenses had been lacerated by this performance. I was undone by feelings I thought I had put to rest a long time ago.
This is what art should do. Drama. Music. Painting. Dance. All of it. Art should awaken something in us that comes from the deepest parts of our souls. It can bring us tremendous joy. It can inspire us to great heights. And it can force us to confront ourselves, our wounds and our darkness.
Friday’s experience has reawakened in me things long dormant: a longing to make room for drama and music in my life again. A reminder that being a father to my boys is more than checking off the boxes. And a desire to live more authentically with my emotions and myself.
All that in three hours.
Thank you, Grusha.