For every thing there is a season, but it seems like, for some of us, our lives are destined to straddle the sands of time. I recently watched a recorded performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Follies,” and as part of the introduction, Sondheim himself described the plot as a string of characters who have one foot in the past and one in the present. Without hearing a note of music, I was already invested. Immediately, it seemed the story of my life.
As I’ve travelled throughout this existence – God granted, entirely – with some good fortune, to go near and far, and having experienced some of the multitude of virtues and cultures this grand world provides, I have often used the word “anachronist” to describe myself; ‘tradition” as my favorite word. It seems quite apropos. Charles Schulz’s “Linus van Pelt” has a security blanket. I, on the other hand, have tradition. It soothes me and seems to readjust the universe when it feels off kilter; a trip, a good read, a moment of contemplation in a church pew older than America brings me back to my groundings. Nothing can get too out of hand if we adhere to it and embrace something bigger than ourselves. The past had an order that we lack in the modern world.
Life, though, admittedly, is about ebbs and flows. They come for us all, and it’s important that, like me, we have something to base us in our foundations. That can be a multitude of things and very individualized, but we’ll all have those defining moments that both bless us and harass us in our sleep. Regret, joy, and tribulation are all part of the human experience. I think the past stabilizes me in those moments. Our ancestors trekked across the sea to start new lands, fought in the trenches of Vicksburg, Petersburg, and across Europe. There’s an un-Sondheim song – actually, by Irving Berlin – that sings, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Perhaps, that’s a mindset we should possess and, with it, challenge the past, knowing that in our veins runs the blood of those whose lives were possessed of hardships that we know not, but they were survivors and we, too, can be.
As an individual encounter with the universe’s great counterbalance, when my family experienced the wild, vacillating emotions of a house fire in 2015, my immediate reaction was – after the initial shock subsided – that we are of good, strong, Southern stock and would overcome. I repeated that over and over – in church, to friends, on social media – and drew strength from the knowledge of something that felt deeply ingrained in me, even in our darkest of days. Sometimes, even in ways we don’t want them, life teaches and reaffirms lessons. Survival is in our blood.
As Carolota Campion, one of those Sondheim characters planted in the past and present, sings in “Follies,” with lyrics brimming of a life fully-lived, knowingly embracing both the good and bad for what it is – experience – “I’m Still Here.” It’s a solid approach to remember in a world full of vacillations, when we are challenged around every corner, as society lurches and drags us forward in unprecedented change, but, as we observe the landscape and alternatives, aren’t we fortunate to be.still here. It may, in the end, be the ultimate ethos that saves us: optimism, foundations, and belief.