Many years ago…twelve years? Fifteen? I don’t remember exactly, but “many years ago”, when my children were still very young, my sister Mary introduced us to the musical “Les Mis”. I don’t remember details, but I do remember that we suddenly found ourselves in possession of the “Dreamcast” DVD. Kate and I fell in love with the music, the romance, and drama of it all, and we began to listen to it almost every afternoon, as I made dinner.
My two little boys, then only about 6 and 8 years old, loved to stack up pillows in the hall to make the “barricades”. As the musical played, they would act out each event. Poor Paul would come home for dinner to find us shouting out the lyrics to “Red; the blood of angry men! Black; the dark of ages past!” We were absolutely swept away by the magic and power of that music.
Over the years, the soundtrack to the musical of Les Mis became a part of our family history. Mary and I took our daughters to see a production in Boston when they were only teenagers. And one time Kate and I were so engrossed in singing along to the soundtrack that we completely missed our highway exit, and had to travel some eighty miles out of our way to get back to our route.
So we come to tonight. The film version of the iconic musical had come out, and my sister Mary had already convinced us that it was wonderful. I had to go and see it! I had to! Kate was just as determined as I was, and we made a plan to meet up tonight at the local theater. I bought the tickets; she bought the popcorn.
We were both excited and happy as the opening credits began to roll. This would be so much fun!
Only, it wasn’t fun at all. It was beautiful, and epic and gorgeous. The acting was absolutely stunning, at least to me. I came home more than half in love with Hugh Jackman, and dazed by the power of Ann Hathaway as “Fantine”.
But my eyes are swollen, my heart is aching, and my throat is raw. I cried and cried and cried, through the whole two and a half hour event.
You see, I was there at the movies with my little girl. I used to sing to her, “Come to me, Cosette, the day is dying…..” And here she was, right beside me, her hand held tight in mine.
I was there, healthy and strong, and sitting with my girl. Knowing that I have two friends who had to endure the death of their own little girl, a kindergartener, this past summer.
I was there, knowing that my two boys, my activist sons, were safe in their apartment, most likely making music of their own as the music in the theater filled my heart. No one was shooting at them.
As the film went on, I tried to keep my composure, watching the naive boys on the barricades as they tried to create a revolution in the streets. I tried to focus on the excessive drama and romanticism of the story. I tried to laugh at the obviously fake butterflies flitting by as Cosette and Marius met and fell in love through the wrought iron fence in the moonlight.
And I was doing pretty well, too. Right up until the moment when I was caught completely off guard when the little boy, Gavroche, the mascot of the Revolution, was gunned down in the street, and the camera focused in on his beautiful, innocent child’s face. That was when life and the movies collided for me, and I couldn’t begin to stop my tears. His face in that moment was the face of all those innocent children killed in Newtowne. I had to hold my hand over my mouth to stop from crying out loud.
I used to think that luck and virtue were somehow connected, that those of us who live charmed lives must somehow have proven ourselves worthy.
I don’t think that anymore.
Now I know that finding myself hand-in-hand with my daughter is a gift that is not of my making. I know that my sons’ trips to New York and Chicago as part of the Occupy Movement, and (more importantly) their safe trips back home, were merely some kind of cosmic luck. And I can’t begin to know how long that luck will last.
Every day is a gift. Every family visit, every shared dinner, every song, every meal, every laugh; they are all gifts that are bestowed by a benevolent universe on those who happen to drift past.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”