This Little Light

The last Broadway show my mother, brother and I attended together was Tony Kushner’s “Angels In America” in 1994.

Chris and I were living in Saratoga Springs at the time. My white Chevy Celebrity stalled out on I-87 near Suffern en route to the city. On the cab ride down, a fellow passenger (bourbon on ice in hand) asked, “So, are you two, like, um… gay?”

I rolled my eyes. Chris answered, “No, we’re, like, um… brothers.”

Chris and I made it to the Walter Kerr Theatre just as the houselights were fading.

“Angels” marks the beginning of my love affair with Bethesda, Angel of the Waters. But it also marks my first adult experience in New York. I was dazzled — frightened even — by the bright lights and fast pace. I never could have guessed that I would spend — to date, anyway — more than one third of my life in this dazzling, frightening, brightly-lit, fast-paced city.

My mother, brother and I all live within a twelve block radius of one another now, which is primarily serendipity, not strategy. And though it facilitates seeing one another now and then, busy lives and the general good sense not to overdue it have limited such gathering to the “rare” to “very rare” file. Which is, in general, fine with me. This theater going experience, though, was in the “rarest of the rare” column. It was Christofer’s idea.

My brother is a fascinating study. He is at once remarkably warm and deeply invested, yet cool and often distant. His says that his primary objective is to be a good husband and father, yet he spends 70+ hours a week at the office. His far-off gaze and hushed speech often suggest that he is thinking about other, larger issues than those at hand. I believe that he often is.

While it is neither unusual nor unprecedented that Chris would suggest a cultural outing (he rarely misses one of my shows, for example), it is unusual in this age of wives and girlfriends that said outing would solely involve my mother, brother and me. Apparently, Chris’ wife, Jennifer, loathes Garrison Keilor’s hushed baritone. And Ethan’s still too young to sit still for three hours. (Heck, so am I.)

So there we were: a single mother and her two sons in the orchestra section of Town Hall enjoying Mr. Keilor’s slice of Midwestern kitsch. Of course, it’s not insignificant that Chris should take us there. The Midwest — as a symbol — has been lost to all three of us. For my mother, who grew up in Iowa, it is a different story, one I wouldn’t feign to know or understand. But for me, the Midwest is a far-off place where, once upon a time amidst fireflies and crickets, everything was deep and simple. I tune into “A Prarie Home Companion” and, through Mr. Keilor’s Lake Woebegone tales, endeavor to return to that quieter, more tranquil time. I imagine Chris does too.

It was a fairly magical Christmas gift to hear my brother laughing so deeply, and to hear my mother singing so clearly. It was a fairly magical Christmas gift to sing “Silent Night” with 1500 New Yorkers. And it was a fairly magical Christmas gift to hear 75-year-old folk legend Odetta read this poem aloud:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most
frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure about you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Standing there in her white knit dress, funky beret and multi-color scarf, this frail, soulful woman led the audience — né, this congregation — through four verses of “This Little Light Of Mine,” then shuffled off, leaving us all to bask in the glow of our collective brilliance.

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