She was young, blond, in desert fatigues, wearing her fully packed backpack, and sitting on the floor of what appeared to be a busy suburban airport. It was as though she had knelt to hug the child, then, overcome with emotion, had sunk to the floor, knees bent awkwardly back, heedless of the travelers rushing by. She had both arms wrapped tightly around the waist of her daughter. And she was crying because she had to leave. Duty, honor, and love captured in a photograph.
Last night, South Pacific opened to a full house at The Walton Arts Center. The show was captivating. Elegantly simple sets, glamorous (and sometimes amusing) costumes, and performers who were a joy to both eye and ear. They had us engaged in the story within minutes, from that first twangy reference to our very own Small Rock. Everything was as it should be...the Arkansas hick, the French gentleman, the salty military humor, and the travels to far-flung places, only to meet the self we thought we'd left behind. The remarkable story crafted by Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Logan (based loosely on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific) has stood the test of time--we still laugh, hum, tap our toes, remember how it felt to be young, or wonder how it would feel to be old. We are drawn in, entertained, and, if we wish to participate, challenged to think. And as the story unfolded, I was reminded how very much things in our world have changed not at all. Duty, honor, and love--the very essence of myth, legend, history, and art--were all on stage.
This morning, as I hurried to leave, grabbing papers that still need to be graded, it caught my eye. It had been missing for almost a year. I'd found it Sunday night in the midst of a frantic search for something else, tossed it onto a table, and forgotten about it...until I saw it again this morning. It has my name, "daughter," my father's name, my parents' religious preference, and my father's military identification number. It's the dog tag I was required to wear during an overseas flight to a three-year assignment. I was nine. And the things I remember most are saluting (lots of saluting), uniforms (dress blues, fatigues, camouflage), and how the entire base--every man, woman, and child--stood at attention each afternoon, while Taps played and the base flag was lowered and folded. I understand now what I couldn't then--it was all about duty, honor, and love.
Stories--whether captured in a photograph, performed on a stage, or carried as a memory--can unfold in ways unintended and unpredictable. The very best stories gain nuance as we gain life experience. Were I younger, I might have walked down Dickson Street last night singing, thinking about love, or admiring the costumes (okay, got me there...I did like those costumes). Having lived the stories I've lived, what I relished most about last night's performance was the portrayal of duty, honor, and love, inextricably confounded with joy, sorrow, laughter and tears. It was life, writ large and executed beautifully.