Mark vs Cancer

Friday, May 05, 2006

One Day More . . .

Today is my last day as OB service chief in residency. While I had envisioned yelping "Hallelujah!" on this last weekday, two factors are tempering my exuberance: the fact that I still have to work this whole weekend, and an unexpected feeling of nostalgia that has settled in. While I am truly ecstatic to almost be done, I'm also a bit sad that this phase of my life is approaching the end.

But not that sad.

The title of today's posting comes both from this sense of closure, but moreso from the climactic chorus at the end of the first act of Les Miserables. Elizabeth and I saw the traveling production last night at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Few things in life truly move me the way Les Miserables does, and this song in particular.

The song begins with Jean Valjean on stage, questioning how Javert has come to persecute him yet again on his "never-ending road to Calvary." Next, Marius and Cosette are fawning over each other and their new love that will come to an abrupt end tomorrow as they are to be separated and Marius is to die. Then add the revolutionary students and their shrill, violent exhortation to fight for the people and for economic equality. Then add Javert, hot on Valjean's trail yet again, hungry at last to see his foil brought to justice. Now add the lecherous Thenardiers as they salivate over the possibilities of mining the gold from the mouths of the fallen soldiers. Then, just for good measure, throw in Eponine's plantive cry about her unrequited love for Marius. Mix all of those elements in a swelling chorus of sublimely interwoven melodies until at the breaking point the voices all unify and declare, "Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow is the judgment day. Tomorrow we'll discover what our God in heaven has in store. One more dawn. One more day. One day more!!!"

Or said more a bit more succinctly: throw anguish, fear, guilt, justice, duty, revenge, freedom, friendship, bloodlust, envy, shameless greed, infatuation, faith, anxiety, humor, hope, virtue, vice and unrequited love into a cauldron of revolution, boil it over a fire of full symphonic power, add clever and powerful rhyme, and pepper it with searing vocals . . . and that's your song, "One Day More." It is the near sum or human hopes, fears, and sorrows rolled into one climactic song. Everything hangs in the balance. Fear and hope permeate the air: "Tomorrow we'll discover what our God in heaven has in store."

Another thing I find moving about Les Miserables is what I view as its artistic intention. The musical was written, in my interpretation, not to be just entertainment or a faithful adaptation of Hugo's work, but rather as a vehicle to change the world, to shake us out of our modern, materialistic slumber and to remind us of our connection to God and each other. This vision is best articulated, fittingly, in the very final scene, as Fantine, Valjean, and Eponine sing as angels to Marius and Cosette that,"To love another person is to see the face of God."

Fade out. Then a barely-audible backstage chorus begins to crescendo:

Do you hear the people sing lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!"

These aren't the lyrics of entertainment. They're the cadences of the pulpit, an exhortation to hope for the best in the future and to treat each other kindly in the present. Who can see this production and not feel overwhelmed by its sweeping portrayal of the human condition? Even a jaded cynic with dessicated tear ducts (like myself) finds the tears flowing. I once read a critic who said, "If you see Les Miserables and aren't moved, it says more about you than about the play."

So be nice to each other. Look towards Christ as a beacon of hope in a troubled word. And give your kids a big hug tonight.

Life is short, wonderful, horrible, and ultimately, desperately, deeply meaningful.

Live your life well . . . one day more.


Jeff said...

Powerful stuff. There is a lot to this "life" thing, isn't there?

Danalin said...

One of the most moving experiences of my life, I have to say, was seeing Les Mis. I bought tickets for two when I was a single gal, with the hope in my heart that I would find someone special to see it with. My mom was the back-up. :) Lo and behold, Tyler came into my life just weeks before and so he was the lucky man to see it with me!

We were both incredibly moved and now love the feelings that the music brings to our hearts. I hope to be able to see it again sometime.

It was one of the most personally spiritual experiences I have ever had. My whole heart was joining in their crusade and I knew that I could be strong and stand with the best of them! I don't remember my train-of-thought exactly, but for me the meaning took on the battle for our souls and the need to be prepared for the Second Coming...and the hope that ALL will join in and stand against the evil of the world. The people singing and the distant drums were, in my mind, those on the other side of the veil who are cheering us on and with whom we will one day reunite. So many unseen reinforcements who are with us in this battle! And the future that "they" bring is the peace that will ultimately follow the return of our Savior to this world. If we can only hold on and fight the good fight! So much hope and strength in one song...

Elizabeth said...

I love the music and story of Les Miserables. Surprisingly, one of my favorite songs is "Stars" (Javert's theme song). He's the "bad guy" constantly hunting Val Jean. I didnt understand why he couldn't let go of Val Jean's past until I saw the show and heard that song. He can't comprehend mercy. He lives by the law of justice and nothing will stop him. He sings,

Stars, in your multitudes,
Scarce to be numbered,
Filling the darkness
With order and light.
...I will never yield.
This I swear,
This I swear by the stars.

I only quoted a small part of the song. If you would like to hear a fine rendition of this song please call Mark. He will sing it to you on the spot.

Back to Javert... I can't imagine not allowing the power of mercy into my life. I am so grateful for a loving Savior who offers us forgiveness and the ability to forgive others. Otherwise life truly would be miserable.

Dad said...

I have to agree with all of you about the power of the story. I have a hard time understanding the lyrics when I have heard Les Mis. so I can't say too much about them. However, I too was moved by it but somewhat baffled by the severity and relentlessness of Javert's pursuit of Val Jean.

What is more baffling besides this lifelong quest of Javert's, is the original crime itself which starts this minor. Stealing some bread because he was starving. This has always amazed me. If he were a murderer or some kind of a drug dealer or such, you could understand it better and Javert's pursue. Doesn't Javert have some real criminals to pursue?

However, I think I now see this was part of the whole story, the smallness of the crime, the relentless, the dogged pursuit, the inablity to forget much less forget the crime, the power of forgiveness. The contrast, the extemes make the point more powerfully.

I think Hugo did this to show the power of not being able to forgive and forget and how it can ruin a life. One act of kindness to Jean Val Jean by the priest changed his whole life. He was extended mercy and could therefore himself extend mercy, forgive and do such good in the world. Truly a life changing expereince.

Javert, even after being extended mercy by the very man he pursued still couldn't understand the principle and so kills himself in the end.

The music, the lyrics are all good, although I'm so stupid that I didn't realize the whole thing was sung the first time I saw it.

Such a powerful message of forgiveness and mercy. Don't know if Victor Hugo was Christian or not, but he sure came up with a power metephor for the concept of redemption, atonement and mercy verus justice.

Good, good story.