• author
    • Beth Bornstein Dunnington

    • April 6, 2015 in Columnists

    Broken angels

    I want to share something about last night’s Passover Seder. How the evening ended…

    As the last of us were leaving the building, a man came in. He was not at the seder. He wasn’t that much older than me, I think, but he had no teeth and his clothes were ripped. He has clearly suffered, this man. I don’t know what the demon is, but he has suffered.

    A small group of us were heading out to the parking lot to our cars, my son and his friends included – we were all going in separate directions. I was carrying a box of matzot I had been given, left over from the seder, since I managed to get to another Passover without buying matzot and the stores where I live in Hawaii are now sold out.

    This man who came in started singing as we walked out the door, I think Harold Arlen, and for some reason he wanted me to listen, wanted to know if I knew the song. He clearly didn’t know me, had never seen me before and I had never seen him – he didn’t know that I sing or direct musicals and concerts here. He just wanted to sing and he wanted me to hear the song.

    So I walked to my car, in the dirt parking lot next to the Town Hall/church where we had the seder, and across from the Kahilu Theatre, and this man walked alongside me, singing.

    And he was really good.

    I told him that I was about to hold auditions for “Godspell” with the Kahilu Youth Troupe (for kids 16 to 25) and in a full-bodied voice he belted out “Prepare Ye” from Godspell.  It almost knocked me down. This big, beautiful, operatic voice.

    He told me he had spent many years on Broadway working with this person and that person, and he knew the players, knew things that only a Broadway Gypsy would know, serious musical theater trivia, and he asked me if I knew this song and that song, and of course I did — so I sang with him, in this now-deserted parking lot, a hundred feet from my beloved Kahilu, which is a thousand miles away from his life, and we sang Sondheim and Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and Andrew Lloyd Weber, and even obscure songs by various composers that were cut from musicals; he knew them all, as I did.

    And I thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.” There but for the grace of God…

    I don’t know how this talented, dynamic man ended up on the Big Island of Hawaii in ripped clothes and without teeth… a lost soul… but what he said about “singing in the mask” and placement of the voice was as dead-on as any good voice teacher, and he told me that I had a beautiful voice and asked me to sing a favorite of his, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeny Todd, which I did, and I watched him listening with tears streaming down his face, and I thought, we’re all hanging on by a thread and what we really have to hold on to are moments of joy, of connection, and for him, singing musical theater and harmonizing with someone else who knows the songs was that.

    We sang in that parking lot for over an hour.

    Finally I gave him my box of matzot and he danced off into the night. (He literally danced off.) He didn’t tell me his name, and I suspect I won’t see him again.

    And I wonder if these broken angels appear to us to hold up a mirror reminding us, in a very exposed and painful way, to live while we can, to live a wide awake life, because it could be over in a flash. We can end up a million miles away from where we started…

    So during this Passover / Easter time of renewal, I want to acknowledge the lost, the broken, those who fell far from what their life once was, those living under the trees or in cardboard boxes in Hawaii or New York City or Venice Beach – and so many other places on this planet – and my prayer for this holiday is that we do not pass over those who are suffering.

    We reach out.

    Give them our box of matzot, sing with them, help them, even in a small way, to connect to happiness.

    After everything else is gone, those isolated moments of joy, of a hand reaching out… I think… are the life raft. And, in turn, that joy is given back, like a gift, to us.

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