I didn't bring a tissue to Taproot Theater's current play when attending last night, thinking that "comedy" meant escape from thought about meaningful issues. And while I laughed more than I do when watching The Office, the play took me into deep and vulnerable places in my heart, bringing me to tears several times.
The themes of aging parents, generational differences, and mobility are all front and center in my life right now. I just bought a ticket home to be with my mom for some days in June. She's 88 and very much alone. I left home, and by that I mean I moved 1000 miles away to Seattle, when mom was 56. She had a big network of support back then, and good health, and a daughter within a two hour drive. But the subsequent 32 years have changed things for her, and I'm living a long way away, pondering the interplay of family love, family responsibility, geography, professional opportunity, and escapism, that motivate us to stay close to family, or move far away.
Because this is the theme of the play, it was as if I was watching big chunks of my life played out in front of me on the stage - not precisely, but close enough that many times, when the elder's in the play spoke I found myself thinking, "that's my mom", or "that's my uncle", people for whom family ties, rather than professional opportunity, are the unshakable foundation and starting point for building a meaningful life.
One of the most significant moments in the play came at the end, when one of characters said something like this, speaking of what Tom Brokaw would call, "The Greatest Generation":
"They worked hard and sacrificed so that we could get good educations, and live better lives than them. But it was often that very education they gave us that opened our eyes to a larger world, gave is a different vision for living, and so distanced us from their values." I'm paraphrasing, but that's the essence of the line, and the essence of so many of our lives. Ambitious to make our mark on the world and weary of what we then perceived to be tiny, provincial concerns, we jetted away - Europe, private college in distant parts, India, Central America, Canada - globe trotting cosmopolitans, enlightened, urbane.
Now, as we grow older, we come to realize, whether we left it all behind because of calling or escape, or maybe a little bit of both, that we left something rich, something that we were perhaps too quick to judge. Some of us, if we could do it over, would still leave. But we wouldn't do so with the arrogance and insensitivity that we once had, because some of us have learned that the life we left behind wasn't worse, smaller, less - just different. And now, as gray begins to mark our own hairs, we've learned to love and celebrate the lives of those who went before us and lived so well, realizing that each generation shapes the world, and that we'd do well to learn from one another and actively bless one another.
If you're in the Seattle area, make a point of seeing this play. Enjoyable for all generations, it's filled with laughs, well crafted, and thought provoking material for these days of hyper-mobility and materialism. But bring a tissue, at least if you live far from home.