"Laughter. Tears. Curtain." That pithy and powerful summary of life was put into the mouth of famed nineteenth century actor Richard Temple in the 1999 film "Topsy-Turvy." The words resonate because they are, in the outline of so, so many lives, true.
We -- if we are lucky -- come into life with laughter. Indeed that is one of the reasons that children are such a joy.
Adults laugh too of course, but the chortle of a child is something different. It is a laugh that comes naturally due to the simple joy of life itself, not as an outpouring that follows a perhaps sardonic punchline. (That type of laughter comes later.) And it is to be around that totally innocent, childish, type of laughter that most people -- even those who were not that 'into' children in their earlier lives -- want grandchildren. To hold close that innocence, that pure joy, that optimism of what life can, and we commonly think, ought to be.
Tears come later. But sadly, in many cases, not much later. The skinned knee. The dissatisfied parent or teacher. The realization that not all our wishes will be as easily fulfilled as in a fairy-tale. That pumpkins will forever stay pumpkins and mice, mice.
And then comes, yes, the curtain. Followed by an empty theater.
Perhaps it is the reality of the later that is the hardest blow of all. The realization that no matter how good a play we put on, how fine our performance, the audience will, before they have even left their aisle of seats, be thinking and speaking about something else. "Feel like going out for a drink?"
How we personally deal with the above sad truths will, to a great extent, determine the quality of our own lives.
Wrote wise King Solomon: "He has made everything beautiful in its time." "He has set eternity in the human heart."
There is nothing sardonic in those words. No punchline. No laughter to cover over or defer pain. Instead there is a simple acceptance that what is, is.
This is not a lesson that, should we learn it early, we will have learned once and then forever remember. It is a lesson that we must learn over and over again. When we get a "B-" on a paper we were confident would receive an "A." When we receive a supporting roll in a school play, not the lead role we had set our heart upon. When the office promotion goes to someone else. When our children choose a path set by their own heart, not ours.
No one studies violin in hope of one day being the orchestra's 2nd violinist. We all see ourselves, instead, in the first chair. Or better yet, center stage, taking bows, our name out front, on the marquee, up in lights. But few of us will actually reach such heights. Most, even if we truly give our best, will sit in the 2nd chair, or a 3rd.
Should knowing this take away our laughter? If, again, we look to wise king Solomon than the answer to that is "no."
"What do workers gain from their toil?" Solomon asks. And then he answers: "Know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."
In our secular world many do not personify fate's arrows as the doings of a personal god. Many of us do not see ourselves as an eternal soul on a god quest. We are just, in our own eyes, what we are; living the life that has somehow come before us.
Interestingly Solomon, for all his confidence in this being a god-directed universe, at least allows for such a post-modern point of view. For in the context of all the above he observes "Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
Yes... "Laughter. Tears. Curtain."
When we decide to go see a show, or leave on a vacation, or plan any activity whatever, we know that activity will one day come to an end. And yet we make such plans. We go to shows. We look forward to vacations. We enjoy them. As indeed we should.
Would it makes sense to go to a show and before the curtain even rises, or in the middle of the third and final act, to lose interest in what is happening on the stage because we know that it will soon end? Would not such be madness?
Should a young violin student give less than their all to their musical studies because in truth most violinists wind up playing "second fiddle"?
Should we never board a plane for that dream vacation because we know that one day -- a day likely already marked on the calender -- we will have to check out of that glorious hotel and leave the silver beaches behind?
Would that not, too, be madness? Is it not better by far for us to enjoy the laughter. To accept the tears. And yes, the curtain?
To again quote wise Solomon, we should "eat... drink... enjoy the good for all the days of our life" knowing that, in Solomon's thoughtfully chosen words, it is "our portion."