Sunday, April 02, 2006

Philosophy of "RENT"

For those that don't know, I'm a rather rabid fan of the musical "RENT". The movie was good, but the stage production is still where it's at. I recently read a memoir by one of the original Broadway cast members, Anthony Rapp. He played Mark and reprised the role in the film. The book is called Without You and I highly recommend it.

But I'm not writing ad copy here, so I'll get to the point. In "RENT" there's a support group called "Life Support" that several of the characters attend because they have AIDS. The affirmation of this group is (sing it with me!)

There's only us, there's only this,
Forget regret or life is yours to miss,
No other road, no other way,
No day but today

We hear this affirmation sung a number of times throughout the show. I really like it because it affirms living in the moment, which is something I believe to mix well with my faith as a Christian. More about that in a minute.

It turns out that Life Support is based on a real group in New York called "Friends In Deed". As I read about this group and its influence on the show I realized that I interpreted "No day but today" in a very different way than it was original intended.

Long story short, this group is very fatalistic. They say there are no accidents in life and that things happen exactly as they should happen. So all we can do when faced with pain and loss is try to accept this reality of the universe and view our hurts in context of the impermanence of all things.

I don't totally agree with this worldview, but neither do I totally disagree. I'm intrigued by the idea that things happen as they "should". Does that imply some kind of master planner behind all of this? The parts of the book that involve Friends In Deed don't ever discuss God, so I'm going to assume that God is probably not a major part of their conversation. That's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. But fatalism without some master planner seems like a post-modern, Nietzsche-infused brand of Reformed Calvinism. A strange marriage, to be sure.

I interpret "No day but today" as more of a cry of salvation/liberation from life circumstances that imprison us. I hear lots of people say "live like there's no tomorrow" meaning "make the most of today". I totally agree with that.

I believe that Jesus would add to that "live each day like it's your first". The Christian faith understands salvation as liberation from the negative effects of previous separation from God. In Christ we know a limitless future, and each day is our first.

If every day is your first day, then you are not bound by the things from your past: broken relationships, abuse, and other kinds of heartaches and victimization. If today is your very first day then the possibilities are endless. You don't have to cram everything in to today because this is the last one you'll ever get (although that may well be the case). If every day is the first day of the rest of your life, you are truly free.

If nothing else, "No day but today" is a cry of freedom. "There is no future, there is no past." The past is gone, and the future is not guaranteed. If we live each day like it's definitely our first, and maybe our last, there is no limit to the kind of life we can create.

No day but today.


Anonymous said...

Your reinterpretation of "No Day But Today"'s fatalism rings true, as there sometimes seems to be a very fine line between fatalism and hope.

My favorite high holy day is Ash Wednesday, as we are reminded in word and deed that "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Yes, that is soberingly true, when we consider our physical bodies, but why is it such a crucial tradition to remind people of this fact on a day we are called into prayer and reflection in preparation for Christ's death and rising? The most obvious answer is that our mortality stands in stark contrast to the eternal life beyond, and we are reminded of this as an impetus toward repentance before that mortal end finds us.

I have pondered a different answer, however. Ecclesiastes is known as one of the most depressing books in the Bible, most notably for its refrain, "everything is meaningless." Indeed, in English, and in a day and age where everyone is seeking "the meaning of life," that sounds pretty depressing. The Hebrew word used here, however, is "hevel," which literally means "vapor." Vapor, like the dust we are, is fleeting, almost undetectable. Such is mortal life, when considered in the great scheme of eternity. If that's not a "life is short, so make the most of it" message, I don't know what is.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post.

As a methodist, I guess that fatalism wouldn't work for you. Presbys on the other hand, well, there it is.

It sounds like the group you are speaking of is taking a cue from the 12-step movement. In 12-step groups, we talk a great deal about both living in the moment and accepting life on life's terms. The serenity prayer we use is very much saying the same thing, that I don't have control over anything but my choices, and the I have to accept what is in front of me. I don't hear this so much as fatalism but rather abandonment of power. Since the only thing I can change is me, and that is only through giving myself over to the care of God, then other attempts to rule life will only bring about resentment and self-pity, and this is what leads to destructive behavior. Ultimately, the 12-steps are not fatalism, but more akin to Zen. Or, that is my experience.