One of the biggest blessings to me since I have returned home has been meeting my new friend, Hannah, who works in the fruit/coffee shop one street over from where I live. She has listened to a lot of my trail stories, has gently encouraged me to begin the writing process, and has generally been a supportive presence in my transition back to this other life at a time when I can’t seem to get anyone I know to hang out with me.
I since discovered that she is a singer, musician and actress, and this Sunday, I was fortunate to see the play that she has been working on since the time I first met her at the Boston Center for the Arts, entitled “Splendor.”
I didn’t know what to expect as I sat in the tiny black box theater with a wooden table in the center as the only prop. As the play opened with the characters standing around the perimeter of the room with the sounds of waves crashing and a foghorn blaring, followed by chaotic running and turkey gobble sounds, I became even more unsure. However, the acting that ensued, the story of the characters in a town just north of Boston over the course of 45 years, and the depth of the emotions conveyed surpassed all of my expectations. And I am not someone who is easily impressed. It was incredible to watch the transformation of the girl I knew from the coffee shop to an entirely different being. The emotion emanating from her was so powerful that I couldn’t help but feel that it was coming from a higher source than herself. I was in awe and deeply affected.
The writing and acting was so believable and powerful, that I sat in the front row with tension filling my body, unable to avoid the likeness of many of the characters to people from my own life. Their struggles and pain were so believable that I felt like I was about to burst into tears at any moment. These days, my yoga practice allows me to recognize when my body is tightening and gives me tools to try to let the tension release, but I still found it hard to do so while I was in that room.
The community of characters in the play had lost one of their teenagers in a drowning accident many years ago and this loss deeply reverberated throughout the course of their individual lives. I lost my own brother at a similar age and the pain of watching others suffer a similar loss brought back my own. The characters were also facing tough economical losses (which I am also close to facing) as well as struggling with the collapses of relationships they had hoped would last forever. The resulting tension and strain often lead to anger and fighting with one another, which again reminded me of all the yelling I was subjected to in my own upbringing. I could not sit there and be unaffected by all of this pain that was so similar to my own.
In the culminating scene, the room erupted with every character simultaneously shouting at one another on Thanksgiving Day. I could no longer hold in my tears. The tension was too much for me to bear. As soon as the tears started rolling down my cheeks, the actors, who were now facing the audience, each eating their individual slice of pie, stopped and sighed in unison. And then they looked out into the audience and made eye contact with us for the first time, tangibly recognizing that we are all connected to one another, and that we all share in the joy and suffering that make up this life.
I realized from watching this play, that as lonely as I am in Boston, and even without a family or supportive network of friends, that this area is still “my home.” When people that met me along the PCT commented on how far I was away from “home” after they asked me where I was from, I always wanted to correct them and say, “No- this is my home! The trail is my home! This is where I feel happy and alive and strong and seen”. I wanted to move to the west coast and start a new life in a place that was closer to the wilderness, where people were friendlier. But the truth is that I grew up in a distinct area at a certain time and that I have been shaped and influenced by what was happening around me during those many years. It doesn’t matter that what little is left of my original family is so dysfunctional that I can not claim to even have a family. This area is still where I am from, and what is known to me, and is therefore, to at least some extent, “my home.”
I also realized from watching this play, that my thru-hikes are a necessary outlet for me to counteract the vast amount of pain and suffering that I have experienced throughout the course of my life. They allow me to discover feelings of joy and openness and freedom and strength, without which, I would (and have been) sucked into all-consuming depression. I found it interesting to hear the director talk about how he reminded his actors during the rehearsal period to keep remembering the joy in life, whether it comes from family, or children, or anywhere else. It’s important to keep a balance. Otherwise, it is too easy to get sucked into the pain.
This morning, as I was telling Hannah about what my hikes do for me, she said, “That’s your Splendor!” I hadn’t even thought about the meaning of the title until that point! My eyes opened widely. She said that everyone deserves their happiness, their slice of pie, in life. And everyone deserves their bit of recognition.
If you would like to listen to my friend Hannah’s music and help support her creative talents, please check out her songs on iTunes!