Monday, June 29, 2015

Steel Magnolias

Much of my time these past few weeks has been devoted to the sound booth of our little community center, working the sound effects and stage lights for our upcoming production of Steel Magnolias.   Rehearsals five days a week, then dress rehearsal this past Thursday followed by the cast party, and finally performance weekend:  Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday matinee.

Bleeding armadillo the cast party

The original play was written by Robert Harling, whose real-life sister - her struggle with and ultimate loss to diabetes - was the inspiration for the story.  We are all more familiar with the movie, which fleshed out many of the scenes including the wedding scenes, and put faces to the male characters who are only mentioned in the original play.  But their story lines track very closely and those iconic lines that we all remember so well were faithfully lifted from the play and included verbatim in the movie.

My booth mate, handling microphones and house lights

This particular play was a "stretch" for our pool of in-neighborhood acting talent and truthfully, some of the ladies on stage were much better than others at embracing their characters and remembering their lines.  Our little acting troupe has never done a drama of this caliber before.  Our repertoire usually includes comedies, melodramas, murder mysteries, and musicals....formats that lend themselves well to large casts, fewer lines, and much forgiveness for ad-libbing.

Dress rehearsal

But we pulled it off, more or less, and escaped mostly unscathed, although very little word of mouth kept the house only partly filled on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  By contrast, our previous production, The Carol Burnett Show, proved so popular and well-done that the Friday night audience and their rave reviews resulted in full houses for the last two performances.

Rehearsal: view from the sound booth

The computer is now put away until our next production, and my annotated script is filed away with all of the other scripts where it will be forgotten for a couple of years and then eventually thrown away in a burst of de-cluttering.

Cast party buffet

So now I have time to reflect a little bit on this particular story line.  Its poignancy, while not closely mirroring any particular event in my own life, still rings a little true in some ways that have given me pause to consider. In particular, the title of the play, Steel Magnolias, defines the woman who wears a feminine exterior while retaining a certain inner strength.

Two adjectives that I consistently hear others use to describe me are "strong" and "independent."  And I'm always taken aback when I hear myself described this way.  I don't think of myself in that light at all.  I just see myself as a woman living alone, doing the best she can, while harboring all of the insecurities and fears inherent in any woman who unabashedly wears her femininity and her heart on her sleeve.  What else was I supposed to be but strong in the face of my loss?

Magnolia in my front yard

When my husband died, I was suddenly very much alone and on my own.  I had no immediate family nearby, not even within driving distance.  I'd lost the person that I loved more than anything in the world.  I was suddenly pushed into the role of Head of Household in a brand new house I wasn't even sure I could afford.  I'd lost not only my pillar of strength - my husband - but a good chunk of our household income.

In no other circumstance did the expression "Suck it up, buttercup" apply more than it did to me on that day in July, 15 years ago, as I dealt with all of the financial, legal, and civil issues that I was facing alone.

I had two choices:  dwell on my loss and succumb to the drowning pool of pity; or stand tall, take charge of my life, and find the strength to move forward as best as I could.  I had a lot of details to work out on my own in those next few months after he died.  I couldn't afford to look backward....I had to keep looking forward to find the steady path.

And what about independence?  I suddenly found myself alone in a world that invests more in relationships and couples, and all but dismisses the "party of one."  I could stay home and be the grieving widow until I died inside, or I could go out into the world solo, eating alone in restaurants, attending plays and musicals alone, traveling around the country by myself.

Someone asked me the other night if I ever got lonely doing all of that travel by myself.  How do I answer this?  Yes, I do get lonely, but I'm not willing to succumb to loneliness by thinking about it, never mind admit it to a new friend.

If I allow myself to stand there in front of some of Mother Nature's beauty and wish there was someone there with me to share it, then, yes, I do feel lonely.  If I watch a particularly well-done play or musical alone, wishing there was someone sitting next to me holding my hand, then yes, I do feel lonely.  When I cross the finish line after running a half marathon, collect my finisher medal and then walk back to my car or my hotel room alone, the victory is a bit empty without someone there celebrating along with me.  When I eat in a nice restaurant by myself, the empty chair next to me or across from me serves as a reminder of just how alone I am in this world.

But over these past 15 years I have learned not to look at life through the lens of a lonely person.  If I think that I am lonely....then I will be lonely.  If I think that I am living life despite my being alone, then I am continuing to live my life as fully as I can, given the cards that I have been dealt today.

So as I sat in that sound booth, watching our actors play the roles of strong southern women - none of them any less feminine for their strengths - I wondered about the message they were sending to the rest of us.  Just how much strength and independence do all of us harbor beneath our magnolia exteriors?  And more importantly, Why aren't all women described as being strong and independent? Because beneath it all, every one of us has the capacity to be that way.


  1. Great wisdom that I am inspired by to move forward in life... Kinda happy the new friend prompted you to share them with us...

    1. Me, too, Ronald! You helped me bring into better focus a topic that I'd been keeping a soft lens on for a number of years.

  2. Very well written.

    I applaud you in your ability to carry on in the face of such loss. If I lost Brad I'd be devastated, but I could only hope to handle it as gracefully as you have your loss.

    1. Thank you! I've been so fortunate to have friends like you scattered about the country. They've eased my travels greatly and given me friendship and company while on the road.