Being Alive

I think Stephen Sondheim might be the greatest lyricist of all time. He learned at the knee of Oscar Hammerstein and his first big job when he was just a Broadway puppy was “West Side Story”. If I had to pick a single song that sums up life for me it would be Bobby’s solo from the Sondheim show “Company”. He is a single guy in New York in the 70’s and has a gaggle of married friends trying desperately to pair him up with someone. He wants to find the right person and sings:

Somebody hold me too close.
Somebody hurt me too deep.
Somebody sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.

Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.

Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.

But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.

Somebody crowd me with love.
Somebody force me to care.
Somebody let me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive,
Being alive.
Being alive.
Being alive!

I remember my children’s father turning to me at one point when our eldest was a toddler and saying, “I’m not enjoying this.” I think I either burst out laughing or screamed at him, saying “REALLY? Who IS?!?!” There is not so much to enjoy about certain stages of the toddler and teen years. You gotta hold on for the better times ahead and relish each sweet moment you can find during the storm (which might be confined to watching them while they sleep.) But I had to remind myself that I was the one who wanted kids. I was the one who could not imagine a life alone or in a childless couple. All that bumping up against other people was my definition of LIFE—of being alive.

There were times when Tom wanted to be with me too much. When I needed space. Although he was a human furnace and kept me warm as toast all night in bed, he also got up more often than a pregnant woman and usually disturbed my sleep. He burned a lot of calories in a day working as a trim carpenter and the slap-dash soup and toasted cheese meals I used to make for the girls and me just weren’t enough to fill him up. I was occasionally resentful at having to plan actual meals that included some big hunk of protein for our resident he-man. I find NY Times crossword puzzles relaxing (at least the M-W editions) and was not keen when he started looking over my shoulder and offering help. It was MY thing and I didn’t really want it to become OURS, but in the end it did and later it was our saving grace during the long hours of waiting at the oncologist’s office.

One of the saddest days of my life was in 1987 when I stepped into the shower the morning after my first husband left me and discovered the shower head was exactly where I had left it the day before. There was no longer any need to readjust it after use by my 6’2” husband. In fact every single item in the house was EXACTLY as I had left it that morning when I went to work. I sobbed at the isolation, the loneliness of never again having my life, my stuff, my shower head collide with the desires, the shape, the needs of another human being. I was it. It did not seem nearly enough.

Circumstances dictated that my youngest daughter wound up living with me full time just 5 months after Tom died. She has sweetly said that she is so grateful to have someone to eat dinner with each night. I feel the same. It is almost as if the universe delivered her as some not insignificant comforter in Tom’s absence. Although she is a teenager, she is an especially nice one and I enjoy her company so much when she makes the brief forays from her room to request food or rides or money or hugs. Now I remember to feel grateful for all the times she helps me feel alive—by needing me or ruining my sleep or hurting me with the occasional cutting remark or even sometimes crowding me with love when I have a long to do list.

Life is about being in relationship with PEOPLE—loving them, being frustrated by them, getting hurt by them and only when we are do we feel truly alive. Extroverts get that instinctively. Introverts have to work a little harder because people exhaust them. Still, we need them and even want them with all their flaws and messy complications. That’s what Being Alive is all about.


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