to Denise and Meredith. Two women who have taught me how to see the Truth and how it can create a unity between two people who would remain otherwise distinct.
"Lately, I've been trying to think of spiritual truths more like the laws of physics than like human laws. If we are selfish, it is not that God will punish us or that we would be just fine if God eased up the rules a bit. It's that being selfish chips away at our happiness the way a river washes away rock."
--Love & Salt, Amy Andrews & Jessica Mesman Griffith
This week, we have been holding auditions for "Our Town". Auditions and try-outs are my favorite parts of theatre: watching people take on different roles, and seeing how easily a person slips in and out of each person's skin. It's positively magic. The art of acting is using your own person to find the truth of another person. But, the beautiful mystery of acting is that while trying to tell the story of another person, you are forced to reveal a deeper part of yourself.
You cannot get up onstage and lie. If you get up on a stage and pretend to be sad or pretend to be sorry, then your whole performance rings false. In order to act out the story of someone giving an apology, you must actually, on some level, apologize the way you would. Thus, if you are paying attention at all to this ritual (and it is mind-boggling how many actors are not), you learn a bit about yourself, because you are forced into a state of self-awareness. You learn how to tell the truth about yourself: how you look when you are overjoyed, how your face crinkles up when you're trying not to cry, how your voice wobbles when you are hiding a secret. When acting, you are becoming adept at telling the truth about another; and in the process, you reveal who you are.
Perhaps, also, what you are also revealing is a deeper truth about the world. A truth that says that all humans love with the same hearts, and that love does not really change from one scene to the next. That regret and sorrow are less subjective responses to individual stimuli and perhaps are woven into the mechanics of the world. Perhaps there is an order to the universe that we cannot break on our own. Perhaps there is a deep truth, underneath all our different experiences. Our experiences are, in the words of Marilynne Robinson, fragmentary. "Sometimes it is hard to believe that they are all parts of one thing. Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties." There is a pattern to experience we cannot change: there are laws to the universe that govern not only the physical but the spiritual dimensions. Why should this not be so? Why would the physical realm be governed in a pattern of beauty, while its counterpart is ungoverned chaos? There seems to be a continuity in Hamlet, Our Town, and Antigone that makes them resonate so powerfully today as well as yesterday.
The problem is, we rely too deeply on our own experience, especially when it comes to the world inside our heart and soul. We have an incredibly difficult time imagining a world outside of us. This is the affliction that our post-modern insistence on non-offense has placed upon us. We are not allowed to assert anything beyond: "Well, for me," "As I see it," "In my personal opinion" "This is true for me." Instead of this prohibition on discriminating thought and unwavering belief leaving us more open, accepting, broad-minded and free, it has left us islands in a sea of doubt: we are not allowed an insight into the lives of others. Who are we to dictate the truth of someone else's life? So we remain cut off; all our possible bridges of connection burned before the chance has come to build them. Thinking, without hope, that there is no way we can ever really understand anything. If left with only the dim assurance of our changeable and unreliable experience, we have very shaky ground upon which to stand.
But there is: there is a Truth. A Reality, that we all participate in, but is veiled from us; revealed to us solely by our fragments of experience and insight. Relativism and our socially fashionable passive resistance to selecting a denomination of belief does not actually aid us in understanding the world. We are all cut off from each other; our experiences are known only to ourselves. The only way that we can ever perhaps to begin to understand another human is to access that deeper Truth that resonates in all our lives; the Truth that we find by digging through all our fragments of experience to the reality underneath. With a joy we do not even dare to feel, we begin to hope that maybe we are not as alone as we ought. Maybe, just maybe, we can be a we in a world that too often leaves us feeling like a poor and lonesome me. If we cannot assert that there is a Truth, then we will forever remain alone. Apart. But, if perhaps, we tentatively assume that there is a foundation on which our entire world rests, we can begin to see each human life as not some inaccessible narrative in which we can never share, but as a unique and divine branch of individual story, sprouting off the central vine of life.