I studied Drama in high school – and being one of the more seasoned actors in senior class I was inevitably cast as the lead in most of the plays the school mounted. It was a lot of fun for the most part. But when my drama coach, Ms. Watson, insisted that I play Romeo in an upcoming production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” I baulked at the idea. Even though I loved Shakespeare and was, like Romeo, something of a romantic dreamer at the time, I still couldn’t relate to him as a character. To me he just seemed whiny, irrational, self-indulgent and melodramatic.
I wanted to be in the play though, and read for the parts of Tybalt, Mercutio and Benvolio, but Ms. Watson wasn’t having any of that. She cast me as Romeo anyway.
It was an ambitious production for a high school and a much more challenging role than I ever anticipated. First there was the script itself. Committing large chunks of Shakespearean dialogue and soliloquies to memory is quite a stretch for a young mind already taxed with studies and exams! It was also a physically demanding role. Rehearsals were arduous; I sustained nasty bruises and scratches during the gruelling fencing lessons we took for the fight sequences; I had to climb a tall, makeshift trellis and remain perched there throughout the famous balcony scene (I should add that heights make me woozy) and I donned itchy tights and heavy period costumes for every day of the production’s month long run.
But the biggest challenge was yet to come…
Victimhood and unaccountability are not part of my system of beliefs, so the real test of my abilities as an actor (albeit an amateur one) was being able to utter the lines “O, I am fortune’s fool!” with believable conviction, when what I really wanted to do instead was roll my eyes and counter with something like “O, how convenient! Thou hast made a fine mess of things and now thou wouldst blame fate or luck so that thou might assuage thy own guilt! Apothecary? Nay! Get thee to an anger management therapist!”
Okay, I doubt that Shakespeare would have approved of my bit of internal improv – and yes, maybe I was being a little hard on his tragic hero. Romeo was just hotheaded, horny and full of youthful impetuosity.
And yeah, I get that it’s only a play.
A tragedy no less!
But in a case of life imitating art, I see similarly woeful (though not quite as theatrical) outbursts to his in real-life contemporary society as well. People who, like Romeo, feel like they’re random victims of circumstance and abdicate all responsibility for their fate and welfare.
For instance, I always find it intriguing when I listen to people lament about their less-than-happy circumstances and then blithely shrug their shoulders and declare, with a deep sigh, that they “don’t have a choice”.
It’s as if they’ve resigned themselves to their lot in life. As in “What can I do? This is the lousy hand I’ve been dealt by fate and that’s that – no point in trying to do anything about it.”
Now to me that’s a real tragedy!
Begging your pardon, but every free being has at least a choice.
Fate, luck, providence, the Universe or God – depending on your personal beliefs – may deliver unto you a series of opportunities, obstacles or challenges. Some of us are born into a set of circumstances that exert a tremendous amount of influence on the direction our lives will take. We often find ourselves at complex crossroads or caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It’s frighteningly easy to get trapped in a routine or an uncomfortable situation not of our choosing. Harder still is living with the guilt and the consequences of the choices we made in the past – and not being able to go back and do it differently because, of course, we can’t.
Our powers are limited to the now and the future.
But I believe that we all have a choice as to how we handle these realities and what we do about them going forward.
And if we don’t, then that too is a choice.
There is always choice. Even with death – that ultimate non-negotiable – there can still be some modicum of choice. As my dearest friend once said – when speaking of a family member’s grave illness – that “one either fights to live or reconciles to die.” Regardless of the outcome, a conscious choice can still be made – even under those dire circumstances.
So why are so many of us so curiously paralyzed and inert when it comes to taking measures to extricate ourselves from a dissatisfying situation?
What’s with this culture of acquiescence?
I think it’s because some choices are so daunting and difficult to execute – and threaten to trigger such radical consequences – that we don’t even consider them as options.
I like to gently press people on this issue, just to get them thinking about it a little.
At first they resist the notion that they have a range of possibilities from which one of more may be selected. Then, with more gentle prompting, they finally acknowledge that while they do indeed have choices available to them, the price for availing themselves of said choices would be too high or that now isn’t the best time to be making them.
I understand and respect where they’re at.
These can be tough and even scary decisions to make. There are always ramifications and repercussions. There are sacrifices we understandably feel we must make for the greater good – and so we end up rooted and incapacitated.
We feel powerless to create change.
Experience has taught me that control is to a large degree an illusion, but to surrender our prerogative to even try to shape our own destiny is fatalistic and, I feel, dangerous. Because it’s my personal theory that the Universe taps into your secret desire and silent yearning for change and eventually manifests it on your behalf – and not necessarily in the way that you’d like or prefer.
When something’s gotta give, something always does.
Now that the Mayan’s have thankfully gotten it wrong and we’re not all dead, it’s an auspicious new year for new beginnings.
I hope you feel empowered to choose the life you want. Or at least choose to be positive about the one you have.
And may “fortune” favour you in 2013!
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with a song still in them”
~ Henry David Thoreau