Five days from now my Jerusalem theater company is opening one of the best plays of all time, "The Miracle Worker" by William Gibson. I admit I have been brooding all day about the fact that we have sold NO tickets for opening night. There are several groups of high school students booked for later performances, and one night is even sold out, but still, the cast has worked too hard to open to an empty theater. I imagine most people don't think about how important it is to the actors to have a friendly opening night audience, they are likely just waiting for the play to improve later in the run.
As I sit here brooding, I can't help but think I'm to blame. After all, things could have gone differently. The theater could have been full of my friends. But it won't be. Now, the truth is, all modesty aside, I'm a friendly person. I've always had a lot of friends, and I try to be a good and attentive one. I have lived in a small suburban community for the last 12 years. Yes, I'm a bit fringy for such a conservative place, but I like it here well enough, at least I did until I separated from my husband. When my parents were divorced in 1971 my mother told me she lost all of her friends. I find that horrifying and shameful. Today, I find it something else as well; familiar.
Now, before I start my rant, I want to gratefully acknowledge those friends who have stuck by me, you know who you are. In fact one just called to say she's excited to see the play, one of her favorites. But still, as I count on one hand the friends who have even called, written, Facebooked, etc in the last six months, it's pathetically few.
I know a marriage on the rocks can be threatening. I know the specific circumstances are painful and confusing. I know people are people and most can't help judging. But really, folks. This is the year 2011. Have we not evolved in 40 years? In a time when the majority, yes, the majority of marriages will end in divorce, I'm still confused as to why we call it tragic. Shouldn't we just be calling it "normal," as it is clearly the NORM??? There are certainly issues to deal with, children to protect, logistics to work out, overwhelming feelings of sadness, grief, anger, disappointment, hopelessness, the list could go on. But these can also exist in the context of an intact marriage. There are many things to consider, yes, but one thing a separation is not, and that is contagious.
Hence my disappointment in my community. I have heard the gossip, and some kids have been forbidden to play at my house. It makes me sick. What would they prefer? That I stay in unbearable conditions so they will feel less threatened? Sorry, no can do.
The fact is, I doubt most of my real friends feel that way. I am willing to bet most of them simply have not thought about it. I'm fairly certain most people are just busy with their own lives and don't have time or energy to spare, let alone reach out to a friend who is suffering. I'm sure they don't even know I'm suffering. If they did, being decent people, they would not behave this way.
And herein lies the problem. I'm an eternal optimist. I am hard-wired to see the best in everyone. I never give up hope. I never stop believing that people are capable of so much more than they know, more compassion, more insight, more love, more openness, more acceptance, more humanness. I just never stop believing this.
Like someone else I know, and her name was Annie Sullivan. Annie Sullivan (1866-1936) came to live with the Keller family when she was 20 years old. Orphaned as a child, she was raised in a state Almshouse, not a pretty picture. She was blinded by untreated trachoma, but her sight was restored after a number of surgeries. When she arrived at the Keller plantation, Helen, then 7 years old had been blind and deaf for five years. Sullivan dedicated her life to teaching Helen to navigate the world. In the two weeks depicted in the play, when everyone else has all but given up reaching Helen, Annie never gives up hope. She asks Helen and her family to "see" her in a different light, and in the end, she succeeds in unlocking the brilliant mind trapped within the child. It is an astounding story of courage and hope. And in my own way, I feel a great deal like Annie. I also ask people around me to "see" with different eyes, to look beyond the world they know, to see through the darkness of judgement and into the light of acceptance and unconditional love.