A Theological (Mis)Treatment of Hello, Dolly!

There are at least three things I know to be true: one, this week always sucks for me, no matter how much I think it won’t; and two, I have a very slight obsession with the movie, Hello, Dolly! When I say “very slight,” I really mean it. It isn’t like my obsession with, say, acronyms, Trader Joe’s chocolate yogurt, or good books. But it’s there, nonetheless.

So today on the way to drop Rachel off at pre-school, I was thrilled when she and Aaron both requested to listen to the HD soundtrack. I love the songs, yes, but more importantly, the songs make me happy. This week, I’ll take any form of happiness I can get.

After listening to the first track several times in a row because Aaron demanded it, we moved on to the other tracks. We were singing with gusto, using jazz hands, and largely being dorks in general. As I sang along, I could vividly picture the long-legged, loose-jointed dancing of Barnaby and Cornelius, and I wished I were free to move around rather than stuck behind a wheel.

It was good, it was fun, it was what we do.

But then, as it does every year, the unbridled grief came, right there on Ritchie Highway in front of the gas station that for some reason has statues of cows in front of it.

As I belted out the chorus, “And we won’t go home until we’ve kissed a girl!” it occurred to me with painful alacrity that not all little boys get to grow up and kiss a girl.

And I was suddenly just done and over, dabbing my eyes with the Scruncii I leave in the cup holder in case of wind and hair emergencies. I checked the rearview mirror and, thankfully, the kids were too busy singing and staring at cow statues to notice their mom had just melted into a nauseated puddle of sorrow and mascara.

I somehow managed to drop Rachel off but leave her part of the class project, due today, in the car, as well as talk to several teachers without anyone noticing that the entire world had turned to ash.

On the way home, Aaron blissfully snoozing away in his car seat, the CD played on, and I realized that the HD soundtrack is much more than mere songs: It is, in fact, both a deep theological work as well as an almost perfect representation of a parent’s grieving process. (The two are not exclusive, nor are the “whys” listed here inclusive.)

Dolly, despite her seeming cheer and Subliminal Man-style humor, is a grieving widower. After years spent mourning her husband and helping other people fall in love (she works as a matchmaker, among other things), she wants to move beyond her grief and discover what life has to offer her:

Life without life has no reason or rhyme left
With the rest of them
With the best of them
I wanna’ hold my head up high.
I need a goal again
I need a drive again
I wanna’ feel my heart coming alive again
Before the parade passes by…

This is a turning point for Dolly, and it is only two songs later that she decides she can’t live in daily grief. She does this in “Love is Only Love,” when she sings about finally, years after her loss, looking to fall in love:

If it’s love you’ve found
Your heart won’t hear a sound
And when you hold his hand
You only hold his hand.

The violins are all a bluff
But if you’re really wise
The silence of his eyes
Will tell you
Love is only love
And it’s wonderful enough

And just like that, she has found her hope: Love may be only love, but love is everything. She can love Ephraim (husband one), she can love Horace (soon-to-be husband two). And she can love them both equally, wholly, and passionately, because love is not finite. And if you let it, love will resuscitate and resurrect you into who you are meant to be and allow you to enter into the world of the fully living. Which Dolly does.

The now fully living Dolly walks—no, sashays—in all her glorious finery into Harmonia Gardens (her old stomping grounds), and sings:

Here’s my hat fellas
I’m stayin’ where I’m at, fellas.
I went away from the lights of 14th Street
And into my personal haze,

But now that I’m back in the lights of 14th Street
Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days

Dolly’s overjoyed and overwhelmed and over par.

Do you hear the ice tinkle?
Can you see the lights twinkle?

I hear it tinkle.
I see them twinkle.

Wow, wow, wow, fellas,’

Dolly’ll never go away again.*

You see, she is living the resurrected life. She is living love. That is a hard thing to do, but once you’ve got it, it is, as Dolly says, the most emphatic of wows.

That doesn’t mean the rest of life will be forest green shutters and late nights by the fire for Dolly or for any of us. It won’t be. Love is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Grief is hard. And no resuscitation, no amount of resurrected living, can take grief away. It can only make it better, bearable; tortured moments fewer and further between.

But as Cornelius sings in what is for a grieving parent the most heartbreaking song on the whole damn album, none of that matters. Because in the end, we have this truth to hold to:

It only takes a moment
For your eyes to meet and then,
Your heart knows in a moment
You will never be alone again. 

I held h[im] for an instant
But my arms felt sure and strong
It only takes a moment
To be loved a whole life long…

And that is all
That love’s about
And we’ll recall when time runs out
That it only took a moment
To be loved a whole life long!

And so this is the third thing I know to be true: He may have only had a moment, but in that moment, Jeremy was loved his whole life long.

* I cut out all the lines that weren’t Dolly’s. (and even cut a few of hers.)
PS – I hope it’s clear that much of this is tongue in cheek. Then again, some of it absolutely is not.

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5 thoughts on “A Theological (Mis)Treatment of Hello, Dolly!

    • Thanks, friend. I felt the prayers of support coming from many this week. If there are good things to be found in grief, the biggest and grandest of them all is how the love of friends and family surrounds and lifts up in times of sorrow. I am grateful.

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  1. Love you. Love this. Love that love resuscitates, resurrects, and allows for living fully. I think that’s great theology.
    (Will not love if this double posted bc WordPress was wonky)
    All the love.

    Like

  2. Oh, friend. I love you. And I love all of this. Especially about love resuscitating, resurrecting, & allowing us to live fully. That’s great theology, right there.

    Like

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