13: “They Also Serve” (Milton & Tagore)

        “They also serve who only stand and wait.” -John Milton, “On His Blindness”
        “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy.” -Rabindranath Tagore

        The play Cyrano de Bergerac (which is awesome. Especially the version translated by Hooker, or, I suppose, the French version, but I’m not cool enough to know about that one) opens in a playhouse. The actors onstage are themselves going to the theater, but these are not polite, careful, here’s-my-ticket-sir, I’d-better-unwrap-my-hard-candies-now theater goers. First there are two musketeers who practice their fencing, then some young gamblers, some lovers (a different kind of gambling?), a few people trying to make a buck, some thieves trying to steal others’ bucks, and children who go up into the rafters to “fish for wigs.” (The play takes place when wigs were fashionable: and this is the best use for fishing hooks I’ve ever heard of). I used to wonder why the author, Edmond Rostand, gave so much time to this initial scene. It’s pages. Then I noticed something: it’s fun. It’s full. It’s laughter and sparkle and variety and life and pizzazz. It’s pizza with everything on it.
        I’ve always wanted to get “pizzazz” and “pizza” that close together.
        My class just read Huxley’s Brave New World, in which a brilliant few have worked hard to make everyone steady and the same. It’s nice to step into Rostand’s world, which celebrates the variety with what feels like a you-bring-a-guitar I’ll-bring-a-harmonica let’s-find-a-tune camp out. Everybody sings. Are we in tune? Not really! Hip hip? HURRAH!
        In “On His Blindness,” Milton (the poet who went blind, and so had trouble writing) talks about losing the opportunity to share his one true talent with the world. I see him folding his arms near the wall, noble and stoic and alone, to Witness as best he can with his blind eyes. Tagore, I think, comes along and takes Milton’s hands, pulling him into the dancing. What if we need the jokesters and songsters, hucksters and pranksters, dancers and madmen–and okay, the poets, too? What if everything vivacious, compassionate, open hearted or aware is part of our service to the world?
        Are we in tune? Not really! Are we singing? HURRAH!

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