Somewhere, in the middle of the fifth song, in the seventh scene, near the end of the first act, I found myself staring down the barrel of a gun.
I had brought my wife and children out on a clear blue February day to the theater downtown. The sun set behind us as we shuffled through the park holding ice cream in our shivering fingers and we shared giddy laughter that bubbled between us and echoed off the ice-covered trees. We were in high spirits. Nothing could possibly ruin this evening. We were on our way to a special Sing-a-long presentation of the Broadway musical The Sound of Music.
My girls knew the story well (although, they were disappointed to learn that Julie Andrews was not going to play the part of Maria this evening). They had watched the movie version several times at their grandparent’s house. But this was their first time seeing it, or anything remotely similar, at the theater. The two of them walked stunned through the massive auditorium, in awe of the height of the ceiling and the number of people. “I hope there is not an earthquake!” Lydia said, clinging tightly to my leg in her black velvet dress. And Clara repeatedly pointed out how steep the floor was. “It’s like walking up a mountain!” she said. And she was right. We watched over our shoulders as the entire hillside was filled to bursting with an avalanche of women in fancy dresses strolling arm in arm with men in dress shirts and sweaters.
We were seated and clapped louder than anyone else in the room as the show began. The children were timid about singing along at first, but as things progressed they became more and more animated, especially during their favorite songs. I put an arm around my wife and pulled my two little girls close and sighed a deep contented sigh. “These are a few of my favorite things…” I sang. And I meant it. This was a moment, frozen in time. Nothing was ever going to change. I would always be here. If you ever need me this is where you can find me. A man, with his wife and two beautiful daughters, sitting in a theater seat.
And then there, in the middle of the fifth song, in the seventh scene, near the end of the first act, I found myself staring down the barrel of a gun. What does that moment feel like? I guess only myself and the good man Abraham Lincoln can know for certain. As you find yourself grinning from ear to ear and turn your head slightly to your left and two seats away you notice your 10-year-old daughter as she turns grinning to face you too. And her face is a dim silver moon shining in a dark sky. She flutters her eyelashes at you comically for a moment and sings to you with absolute innocent sincerity these few fragile little words. “I am sixteen, going on seventeen! I know that I’m naive.” And then she tips her head to the side and turns away again and keeps singing.
But already the image of that moon is burned in your mind. The image of that innocent gun barrel moon. The sudden aching realization that this moment is not, in fact, frozen in time. And the truth is, that someday THAT little girl is going to go off and there is nothing you can do to stop it from happening. And you open your mouth to object but nothing comes out. And you are tempted to lean across and cover her little mouth to keep her from saying the words, but you know it doesn’t matter. You can’t change truth by keeping it unspoken. “Don’t say it!” you want to yell. “Don’t ever become that… Be this and this and this forever. Let me be this and this and this forever. Let us be all of this. Don’t sing these songs and call up whatever magic it is that grows you up so quickly. Stay here.” But you can’t say any of that.
So you sit up taller in your seat, and you swallow the lump that has made residence inside your throat, and you squeeze your wife’s hand a little tighter. And instead of protesting, you blink back the tears and, with a shaking voice, you reluctantly find a way to sing along.