When I was a drama tutor in college, something struck me. I was embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it before. When you look at the hit musicals and entertainment of the mid 40s and late 50s, what do you see? I might have called it fluff. Fun, sure. Pretty, often. But the simple plots were often resolved with love and a good heart. Songs were upbeat and typically lighthearted. The entertainment of my grandparents was so . . . simple. The truth that floored me in college was the reason why: My grandparents weren’t naïve. Their childhood was national depression, and their youth was global war. They lived through intense suffering. Theater wasn’t superficial because the people were. It was an escape. It was hope and beauty. That generation knew more than most of us ever will what pain and loss are. And when it came to art, they needed something to balance out the sadness.
So decades later, when they chatted about their flowers and their vegetables and the health of their neighbor’s nephew, it wasn’t because they were uninformed about poverty or conflict or hatred. They had stared at those things full in the face. And they chose to sow the land, to plant the bulbs, to nurture the neighborhood.
A few years ago, I began to wonder about our music and theater and entertainment. When our musicals have multilayered nuances of societal strife and our music bounces from themes of depression to bad breakups, does that mean we have the luxury of vicarious suffering? We can watch fictional people have conflict because we have none? I wouldn’t go that far, by any means. But maybe it’s more accurate to say that we choose to experience fictional troubles because we don’t want to think about the real troubles that we push to the margins of our lives.
But then, something happens. Suffering will no longer take a back seat or hide behind a screen. Instead, it pushes us behind our own doors and grips our friends and our heroes and our livelihoods.
We’re nowhere near a depression or global war right now, but we are in a moment when we cannot ignore the fears and uncertainties; we have come face to face with them.
So, what are we to do? If you’re reading this blog post, you probably fit under one of three categories: (1) You are a writer/creative. (2) You are a Christian. (3) You are a friend. There’s a very good chance you’re all three. So, brothers and sisters, what do we do for a community hurting with a pain that does not quickly fade?
We give them beauty.
Yes, enjoy the memes and the games and the jokes that are lifting spirits right now. We need some easy happy endings. But we also need things that last, like a garden or a bond across fences. We need art that sees the pain and sorrow and with bittersweet clarity offers something truly lovely. So please, let’s work together and spread joy: Look the unseen in their eyes and smile warmly. Offer mercy with boundless grace. Sing a song that fills the hearts around you. Tell the epic truth of conquered sorrow and certain restoration.
Will you help me? I need beauty too.