It seems like a lifetime since I wrote my last blog entry. Last Friday, the day of our second show of our Footloose run, real-life came crashing into our idyllic theater experience. One of the kids in the cast, one of the precious young men who I have come to love through this experience, found out that his father’s life had come to a tragic end. This man, whom I had not met, was beloved by this community and had built the sets for our production. By Saturday morning, most of the kids in the cast had heard the news. The rest of our Footloose weekend was irrevocably colored by this event as we comforted one another and prayed together; trying to impress upon these young people that experiences such as this was what community is truly about….loving one another and supporting one another through the worst of times.
You may remember that a few short weeks after our production of Godspell last year, many of these same kids experienced the loss of one of their own in the shootings at Virginia Tech. These kids from Westfield High have had more than their fair share of tragedy in their brief high school careers. Then, and again this week, our church has had the privilege of providing a place of refuge for these kids as they sort through the difficult emotions which accompany a great loss. This past Tuesday, we opened up the church to allow the kids to meet together to comfort the kids who lost their dad. As the evening progressed, the kids decided that what they needed to do was to dance. While that might seem strange to some, it might have been the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. These kids danced for an hour and a half, running through all the numbers from Footloose that this young man had been unable to perform in the shows that he missed. After that, they moved onto other music and continued to dance until they were all sweaty and spent.
Yesterday, we had the service for this gentleman at our church. It was standing room only…the kids all wearing their theatre shirts because the man whose life we were celebrating had built many of the sets for recent productions. It was a beautiful service and once again, I marveled at the privilege of being part of this community which is trying to lift up and heal these children who have seen too much of the ugly, violent side of life in this world. His son sang for his dad…we all wept as he sang a rendition of “You Raise Me Up” that rivaled Josh Groban’s version and then rose to our feet in appreciation of his bravery. Through dance on Tuesday night and through song on Friday, he expressed himself in the ways that he knows best. It is only the beginning of healing…but it is a beginning.
During the course of the week, I also had the opportunity to attend the Folgers Shakespeare Festival with my daughter and her 8th grade Advanced Theatre class. It was a day of remembering how brilliant William Shakespeare truly was and marveling at the talent of many young actors from 8 different schools. It still amazes me to think that these plays have endured for centuries, with the truth of human nature and the value of dramatic expression remaining unchanged in this most cathartic of art forms. I am so grateful that my girls have developed an interest in theatre so that I have an excuse to personally indulge in experiences like my own involvement in Footloose and the day long Shakespeare Festival.
Footloose, by the way, was a huge success, in spite of the shadow of sadness hanging over the last 4 shows. I heard today that there were over 1700 tickets sold! I truly had the time of my life and, although my husband will cringe when he hears me say this, I will jump at the next chance to participate in another musical. Even more importantly, the tragedy that we experienced and the ensuing opportunity to minister to these kids, confirmed for me that God is using this outreach ministry in a powerful way in our community. Theatre at CPC….singing and dancing together….was God’s idea and His ideas are always good. The beauty of expressing emotions and telling a story through this art form is second only to the beauty of many hearts joined in common purpose and love in the face of tragedy. God’s love seems so much bigger when exemplified by true community. He made us to need one another and it is good when we realize that.
Please pray for these kids and their broken hearts. Please pray that we can be used by God to continue to offer a place to ask hard questions and wrestle with the ugliness that the world throws our way. And please pray that, together, we will remember that God’s love always triumphs over hate and fear and isolation. In community, we begin to experience the Kingdom of Heaven of which Jesus spoke. His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.