Chapter 21 : Dear Michael Howard
This past weekend I had the tremendous fortune of getting to see Dear Evan Hansen with my Mom and Dad on Broadway. In short the show is about an outcast, misbegotten teen who in a series of events finds himself at the center of lie involving the suicide of a “best friend” he barely knew. The titular character is absolutely fantastic and is the beating heart of the show, but while I was sitting in my seat watching I couldn’t help but tie every line, every song, every laugh back to the character who was focus of the lie in the first place. Connor Murphy, the name of the angry, woebegone, misanthropic character who commits suicide in the early stages of the show is the crux, the puzzle piece that ties the whole show together, and the soul that allows the show’s heart to beat with such a thump.
As I’ve dug deeper into why I’ve found the show to be so powerful I’ve come to a rather dark and macabre conclusion, and I apologize in advance if this is an uncomfortable read.
What I realized about 20 minutes into the performance, and after months of anticipation, is that I don’t relate as much as to Evan Hansen, the teen left to pick up the pieces, as I thought. Rather I see in myself Connor, the teen who decided that to fix his problems the only solution that he found that worked was to eliminate what he found as the root cause of his miserable life : himself.
My favorite song is the third song, For Forever, and it’s a catchy tune about the two friends exploring an apple orchard and reveling in something many teens long for; the power of an intimate friendship at a young age. Listening to the song in a vacuum it is incredibly cheerful and inspiring, particularly the following lines :
All we see is light for forever
’Cause the sun shines bright for forever
Life will be alright for forever this way
Two friends on a perfect day
And there he goes
Racing toward the tallest tree
From far across the yellow field I hear him calling “follow me”
And there we go
Wondering how the world might look from up so high
Sounds pretty positive and uplifting right? Only one issue… the whole song/scene is a complete and utter lie. There is no run through the orchard searching for the tallest tree, there are no friends laughing under a bright sun, and there does not exist a “perfect day”. Evan has made it up to appease Connor’s sorrowful Family, the two were never friends in the first place.
It’s easy to forget beneath the thrum of the guitar and beautiful singing that this musical is about death, purposeful death, and the lies we seek to untangle when we try to understand the previously misunderstood.
This can not be more evident in what has become my favorite song, albeit the most haunting, titled Requiem which is performed by the Murphy family in the middle of the first act. The main theme of the song is that since Connor was such a despicable young man with seemingly no redeeming qualities, why on earth should his remaining family members sob and weep for him? Why should the burden of his selfish act fall upon the family members, as if somehow his suicide causes the sadness and depression that killed him to be transferred to his remaining family members. To be blunt, this scene was really, really hard for me to watch. It’s as though a tableaux I had envisioned in my head many times over had been snatched from my private memory bank and was now being broadcast live on stage to anybody with a ticket.
In Connor’s sister I could see my own :
Why should I have a heavy heart?
Why should I start to break in pieces?
Why should I go and fall apart for you?
Why should I play the grieving girl and
Lie saying that I miss you
And that my world has gone dark without your light
I will sing no requiem tonight
In Connor’s dad I hear my own :
I gave you the world, you threw it away,
leaving these broken pieces behind you
Everything wasted, nothing to say
So I can sing no requiem
As someone who has contemplated, attempted, and ultimately failed at suicide, these lyrics hit you like a brick. One thing people don’t realize about suicide, at least in my eyes, is that it is at once the most selfish and selfless act that humanity allows us. It’s selfless because the attempter believes themselves to be the root of the problem, and to solve this dilemma, it requires them willingly to extinguish their own light. Yet it is also clear why it’s so selfish since that darkness now stymies the light of the loved ones left behind.
For me personally I ultimately decided that I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t allow my Mom or Dad to be forced to pick up the pieces I would willingly leave behind.
When you get to the precipice, suicide becomes very powerful, it gives you the key to do something dramatic to fix all your problems and issues. But in that same moment, I experienced a totally different kind of power, or at least I felt to close to it. If I had the power to take my own life then why did I not have the same power to change it? It’s this feeling of power that allows me to wake up everyday, to know that if I have the ability to blow my candle out, than I also have the ability to create the biggest fire the world has ever seen.
More to come,
LOL, listen to the Soundtrack!!!