Being Alive

In the Company of friends

The Broadway musical “Company” is a complex study of a person’s character as only Stephen Sondheim can portray him.  The central character Robert is single.  He is alone although he has many friends.  His is a complicated life that does not want to be alone, but is afraid of commitment.  He is afraid of letting someone completely into his life.  He sings of his fears, but are they really good reasons to be alone?

HARRY: You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but
Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.

So it is with many of us.  We can see the complications of having a mate, or even a date, and it makes us pull back.  When you think of all the things that may have to change by being with someone, life can seem a little too scary.  So it was with Robert, a little afraid and a little cynical and quite a bit alone. When you rank order all the things in your life and leave no room for one more thing, you can retreat from the very thing you should be rushing toward.

DAVID: You see what you look for, you know.
JOANNE: You’re not a kid anymore,
Robby. I don’t think you’ll ever
be a kid again, kiddo.
PETER: Hey, buddy,
don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect. The only thing
to be afraid of really is
that it won’t be.

But you might be afraid that it will be, and that is the worse fear of all.  There is the old adage that it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.  What if you are not sure the adage is true?  If you are afraid of the inevitable breakup, there will inevitably be a break up.  It stands to reason.  It is the self-fulfilling prophecy.  Of course a mate or a best friend will seem to crowd you at times, it goes with the territory.  Avoiding love in order to avoid pain, may mean that you are avoiding life in the process.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

Of course, you have to let someone into your life.  Life is about sharing.  I swear the best times of my life have not necessarily been the highly anticipated events, but the surprises and wonder that comes from sharing with someone.  For my personal examples, I will say that I have had a lot of great adventures in recent years and they have all come about because they were shared adventures.  Of course, I have gone to shows or concerts alone because no one else seemed interested or was free, and I did enjoy them.  I am convinced now that they would have been even better if I could share the same joy with another at the same time.

Stuff is for sharing too.  I look around and see lots of stuff.  Stuff can be good.  Stuff can give you a sense of accomplishment, a pride in ownership, the joy of accumulation.  In the end, however, it is just stuff.  Chief among my stuff is my television.  I am actually glad to hear from visitors that the picture is remarkably clear and they enjoy watching stuff on it too.  It is a much better feeling to share stuff than to say, “that’s my stuff, don’t touch!”  You might tell children not touch for fear they will break something or hurt themselves, but if friends enjoy the stuff I enjoy, it feels good.  As a matter of fact, there is some stuff I would be pleased to hand off to others if they like it enough.  Living in a house for decades means you acquire a lot of stuff.

SUSAN: And what does all that mean?
LARRY: Robert, how do you know so much
about it when you’ve never been there?
HARRY: It’s much better living it
than looking at it, Robert.

It’s no good to just look at life, you need to live it too.  You need to be an active participant.  If you pull back so that you will not be hurt or that you will not lose something, you will never win anything either.  I can not explain it to you exactly, just like I can not explain the characters that populate Company, or Follies or A Little Night Music and sing the Sondheim lyrics.  I can see, however, that the layers of the complicated lives can be stripped away to reveal the characters are not really alive.  What have you got, if you have nothing you can share?

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who’ll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

In the final analysis, you must come to the realization that this is exactly what you need.  The business of “being alive” may be awesome and frightening, but that is the beauty of it actually.  To go through life with others, or perhaps just the special someone, is to help you feel alive.  This should be the conclusion of all our plays.  When I see Robert onstage at the end of Company I may feel a bit uncomfortable in my seat, being in the dark and knowing exactly what Robert is feeling.

Make me confused
Mock me with praise
Let me be used
Vary my days
But alone is alone
Not alive…

The incredibly talented Neal Patrick Harris as Bobby from the 2011 production of COMPANY with the NY Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall.  Music and Lyrics By Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth.


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