They tell me I was inconsolable for hours. Which may be a bit much.
It was only a bit part.
I was Ebenezer Scrooge as a child.
Yes, that is part of A Christmas Carol, but only a very small part.
Nevertheless, when the applause died down, the cast dispersed, and the crew began striking the set, all I could do was cry.
Because it was over.
…I don’t cry, but I’ve never really been able to get over that feeling.
A week ago, we held our final performance for Beauty and the Beast. This time, I wasn’t even on stage. I was playing double reeds in the orchestra.
But the sweetness of the music, the camaraderie of the cast and crew, and the joy of watching my wife and kids dance and sing on stage – it all combined into an intensely enjoyable and emotional experience.
I’m still sad that it’s all over.
The Work Is Finished
Don’t get me wrong, I’m also glad it’s over! It was a lot of work!
I played some long rehearsals, and even a couple of performances, on a very difficult reed that left me physically exhausted. (My lack of practice notwithstanding.)
We spent many nights this summer attending chorus and choreography rehearsals. My wife spent hours tracking down costumes for our little townspeople, tea cup, salt shaker, and wolf. We completely rearranged our schedules for two months so we could be where we were needed to help put on this show.
It’s Not Just Theatre
But so do a lot of other things. A football season – winning or losing – takes a lot of work. So does…
Building a house
Planning a wedding
Hosting a big family Christmas
Taking the BIG vacation – the one where you scrimp and save, travel far and wide, and then hurry and scurry to snatch up every last bit of fun while you’re there.
Creating a new product line at work
Writing a book (someday…)
Completing an album or concert tour
Finishing a successful career
And let’s not forget the most obvious…giving birth to a child.* Or sending said child to college.
Every one of these things can catapult us to the heights of ecstasy and then leave us struggling through the swamps of sadness. Or at least a vague depressive mood.
Why the Crash?
I think there are a few reasons for this.
After focusing our attention on one thing for so long, we’re forced to realize that there’s more to life than this. In other words, a few billion people just don’t care, and all the other duties we’ve dammed up come rushing in like a flood.
Part of it is physiological. We’ve been living on adrenaline for so long, we just can’t sustain the high. And without pharmacological help, our endorphins lose their potency.
Also, when we give everything towards something, we simply have nothing left when it’s over. No energy, no emotion – just emptiness. It’s part of our human limitation.
Which leads to the most important reason…
We Can’t Really Live In the Moment
Moments fly. That’s just what moments do. Weeks and months – sometimes years – of work and preparation peak in a moment. And then it’s gone.
We can’t live there.
A short survey of the Bible reveals many of its leading players enjoying intense moments with God. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, James, and John – they all had powerful divine encounters, but they couldn’t stay there.
Their most profound moments with God affected them deeply and marked them for life, but they couldn’t freeze time. And Peter tried. (see Matthew 17:4)
We Could Have
The reason Peter couldn’t freeze time was because God wasn’t done yet. He wasn’t done undoing the real problem that started in the beginning.
In the beginning, we were offered one eternal moment of joy. One never-ending moment of ecstasy that would only grow in its scope, magnitude, and intensity.
But in a single moment that could never be retrieved, Adam and Even traded impeccable, God-centered delights for irresistible, self-centered death and destruction. Instead of the everlasting flame of bliss, we were left with the briefest sparks of happiness.
When we succeed, achieve, and receive, we experience the tiniest sliver of the pleasures we were made to indwell.
It is a taste of the glory that once was ours, but our triumphs carry with them a reminder of what we’ve lost.
A Longing Without Words
Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works know that he populated Middle Earth not only with Hobbits, but with Dwarves, Men, and Elves too. In his world, men are born, live, and die, but the Elves are immortal. Except for an act of extreme violence they do not die, and so they envy men who can. They walk through the pages of Tolkien’s books glorious, graceful, ageless, and sad.
Sad, because they are forced to watch the birth of beauty and its inevitable decay. Sad, because they outlive all that is good and just. Sad, because they cannot hold on to happiness.
It’s as if Tolkien knew with Frost that “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
What they, and countless other poets, have tried to say is simple: happy days remind us of what we were made for.
Every man, woman, and child has felt it.
We ache for Eden…
A Longing Fulfilled
…But the Christian hopes for Heaven.
When Peter tried to stay on the mountain, he couldn’t, because God was still working. Jesus had yet to be crucified, resurrected, and glorified. And when he finally went to the cross, it wasn’t to recover something lost, it was to create something new. He didn’t die looking backwards, but “for the joy set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Peter learned his lesson and spent the rest of his life encouraging believers to look forward with “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8)
Paul, too, realized that fleeting moments of Christian happiness weren’t about reenacting a Paradise Lost. They were about increasing our experience of God “from glory to glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
They knew, as have all the saints, that no moment of joy can last by itself, but it can increase as it leads us to Jesus, who is the source of never-ending pleasure for his people. (Psalm 16:11)
I still miss the experience of Beauty and the Beast. And I’ll miss the fun of the next musical when it’s all over. I’m sure I’ll cry when my kids leave home, and when they get married. But my tears will be a little different.
I’ll enjoy every moment that I can from here to eternity. But when the exuberance falls silent – as it must – I won’t mourn for what has past. I won’t grieve for what’s gone.
I’ll thank God for a glimpse into the joys of his Kingdom, and I’ll groan because I’m not home yet.
*This post is about a temporary emotional state, and not Post-Partum Depression (PPD) which has been classified as a psychiatric mood disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.