Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life . . . and The Sound of Music

Clayton Middle School Production
 My daughter is in 7th grade and was recently in a middle school production of The Sound of Music. I saw the play last Friday. Now, you'd think that I would tell you a story about a mother sacrificing her time to sit through something produced by a teacher who doesn't want to be there, with obnoxious kids who are either seriously into theatre or who just want attention. But, this production was none of that. It was truly amazing and of professional caliber.

The entire production  - the multiple sets created or borrowed from the Utah Opera, the costumes tailored to each actor, the vocal abilities of the young actors amplified perfectly by sound and lighting systems - were all surprisingly professional. The family members whom I had dragged to the show to support my daughter were captivated. This was a really good play, every bit as good as something you'd see at the university level. These students had honestly pulled off an amazing - and moving - production. In fact, the play is featured in an upcoming article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

I learned that nearly half of the entire population of this middle school participates in the annual school play. It is a tradition that these students actively seek out, giving up hundreds of hours of time to perfect. At a time in life - middle school - when everyone changes, and popularity becomes a sport, and being cool can be the number one requirement for a good life - all of these kids pulled together to create a truly inclusive community.

I was floored.

And then I was inspired.

These 7th and 8th graders knew that participating in the play would be a life experience they didn't want to miss. They knew that even though they'd be putting in a ton of hours, putting up with other people who might make them crazy, and sacrificing their cool quotient, they'd become part of something bigger.

It struck me that school can be like that. You have a finite opportunity to make a difference, and therefore you have a heightened awareness of your life. Who among us doesn't remember homecoming dances, high school sports teams, winning (or even losing) seasons, a particular teacher or class? We know in middle school, high school and college that these are "times to remember" and so we specifically act in such a way as to make our efforts worth remembering.

So why does that change when we become adults? Are there no more opportunties for personal growth? Have we learned everything we can learn? Are we never going to be part of something "bigger"?

Aren't our efforts worth remembering now???

There is a scene in The Sound of Music in which Maria implores Mother Abbess to let her return to the abbey. The wise nun explains that there are many paths our lives may take, and they can all be meaningful. She tells Maria to "go out and find your life".

Sitting in the darkened theatre, watching these amazing young actors reciting this important line, struck a chord in me. Each one of those kids had auditioned, put in the time, and risked embarrassment or even rejection to be in the play. But they did it. They put themselves out there to start the process of finding their own lives.

Which of course got me thinking about the fact that, as adults, we all continue to have the opportunity to "find our lives". We're living our lives every day, but sometimes it can feel like a treadmill. Are you  honestly living a life in which you're consciously aware? A life in which you find meaning and purpose and beauty? A life that is worth remembering - every day?

I was preparing to facilitate my group session for the Alumni Mentoring Program last weekend, and I came across the poetry of Mary Oliver. I was struck by the last line of her poem The Summer Day, which succinctly and eloquently summarizes everything I've been thinking about and trying to say here. And I challenge you all to really think about it - and then LIVE it - we always have the opportunity to live a life worth remembering.

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"


  1. I'll comment, but only because I saw your post on facebook. ;) This reminded me a lot of being in my first play last year. Being part of something bigger is what I love about theatre.

    I've been thinking about some of these things recently. How can I continue to feed my hunger for learning and growth outside of a school/college setting? I think sometimes the environments we find ourselves in at school are focused on helping us branch out, test our limits, and be parts of something bigger than ourselves. When we leave those places, we lose the relative safety of that supportive place and the mantle of responsibility over our own lives shifts even more onto our own shoulders as adults. I think it's easy to become lazy and complacent without a community helping us to expand our horizons.

    This would be a great AMP discussion topic :)

  2. Being a part of something bigger is not only what gives us meaning, but context. When one broadens the context in which we live, we find definition that is clear and concise. Much as the universe expands and contracts at once, so does our existence, expanding into something bigger, and yet contracting within itself to find focus and drive.

    You hit the nail on the head...that's what I'm trying to say.

  3. You know I was in a few plays in high school and middle school. After the long nights of play practice, food that wasn't good for me and being yelled at a few times I learned a LOT about teamwork and what it means to stick with something. Kudos to your daughter for actually pulling this off Annalisa!

  4. The theatre is a magical space where true life lessons are learned, and not just by the audience.
    Melissa B.

  5. The Mary Oliver quote is one that I've thought about a lot since I first heard it two years ago, and over the past weekend after reading this post. It's also one that I can't fully wrap my mind around, as much as I love it. Life is wild and precious...but what does that mean to me? How can I apply that to my life? Does it make a difference what fancy adjectives we use to describe life? Should we really go about defining life in these ways, or should we just be out there, living it? I'm not really sure what I want to do. I don't know what would make me happy or what would make me feel complete. Maybe I'll know what that is when I'm faced with it, but at the moment, I'm just trying to make the most of everything I've been given.

    But you bring up a great point here that: a) living isn't a solitary activity, as Ali also touched on, and b) enjoying our lives isn't something that only happens when we're young. There's this whole glorification of youth in our culture; we're supposed to go out and do the things we want to do NOW because, when we're older, society has all these expectations for us. We are supposed to get a job, get married and start a family, work to support our families so they have the same opportunities in the future. Then we save up for retirement so we can look back on our glory days and die happy.

    Speaking as someone who's in my 'glory days' right now... I don't want this to be the best moments of my life. I don’t want to look back and think, “Wow, that time in my life was great. I wish I could go back.” then just go back to the daily grind. I want to have something glorious happen to me every year, all the time. I want to live my wild and precious life, not just for a few years, but forever. And I need other people around to do it, a community of friends and neighbors who support me and want the best for me, just like I want for them. Life doesn’t really seem worth it if we’re enjoying it alone.