“For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool, by making his world a little colder.” Paul McCartney
This past weekend I had the pleasure of going to see the Beatles tribute show, Just Imagine. A lovely and generous friend had offered my family free tickets for a Saturday matinee and, hey, who doesn’t like The Beatles?
The first few minutes of the show required some adjusting, on my part. The guy playing Lennon isn’t exactly a teenager, and when he walked through a pretend cloud onto the stage, a huge stairway (to heaven, I’m guessing) projected onto a scrim behind him, the visual was a little funny at first. He wore tight jeans, bangs and little round glasses. I gave my husband’s hand a secret squeeze and settled in.
Through short monologues, old photos and, of course, his music, Just Imagine tells the story of John Lennon’s life, and his journey as an artist. The guy playing John ended up being great. He was charming and funny and sounded exactly like someone who makes his living being John Lennon should sound. By intermission, my face hurt from smiling.
“What do you think?” My husband asked, as we stood in the lobby in between acts, surrounded by lavender hairdos and pantsuits.
“I love it,” I said. “It’s impossible to watch this show and be cynical.”
Like those little babies you see who, fitted with a little hearing aid, go nuts with happiness at the regular sounds of our boring old world, I still get a kick out of how much better life is, now that I’ve given up believing that everything that makes the human heart sing is lame. Some say that cynicism comes naturally, along with aging, but I disagree. In her blog post 11 Undeniable Signs You’re Becoming Cynical, Kate Gorge describes how getting older can bring on a kind of positive cynicism:
“Things start to seem farcical and ridiculous, and you question more than you did when you were a younger person. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; becoming more cynical means that you stop accepting things on face value and start approaching things with more caution.”
Not to be a stickler, but cynicism is not the same as discernment. Discernment, one of the many gifts of growing older, leads straight to your best life. Cynicism, on the other hand, leads you to the table with “the cool kids,” and anyone who’s lived through middle school knows that’s not nearly as fun as it looks.
I started young. As a little kid, I refused to take part in Easter egg hunts because they were babyish. I didn’t like all the adults standing around smiling and pointing at us kids while we played right into their hands. Not me, I thought, feeling embarrassed for the kids scampering around searching for that pathetic golden egg. No way. I stood alone, with my empty basket, next to the ham.
When I was ten, a class called “For Girls Only” was offered to all us fifth graders, along with an alternative class which, oddly, wasn’t called “For Boys Only,” but, instead, “Kick Ball.” We could choose which class to take, but it was pretty obvious what the grown-ups expected. All the girls in my class took the bait, signing up for the “girl” class and spending an hour a week, for six weeks, talking about periods, vaginas and bonding with the female teachers over stories of bras and underarm hair. Even though I was curious about all those things too, my friend Alyssa and I signed up for Kickball, not because we loved Kickball so much, but because I talked Alissa into agreeing with me that a bunch of girls passing around Tampax and giggling was weird and boring.
I was so cynical that in sixth grade I would not play Spin the Bottle, despite the fact that I burned with passion for Dean Harris, the kid who sat behind me in Social Studies. Instead, I sat on a leaky beanbag chair in the corner and watched him kiss another girl, who had long blonde hair, a Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker hanging around her neck, and was game for anything. I rolled my eyes. I just couldn’t let go. Damn.
I don’t know when I started being so cynical, but I have a good idea why. In my family, unbridled enthusiasm was like wearing a hamburger suit in a shark tank. You were just asking for it. I was pretty good at self-defense, and deciding that everything was stupid was one of my best weapons. If you pretend nothing matters to you, you’ll never be a sucker. Words to live by if you want to protect your heart from, well, everything.
In 1996, I was living in chicago when the Olympic torch relay came through the city. My boyfriend (how I hated that word) and I were on the Michigan Avenue bus, when traffic stopped and the runner made his way, holding the torch overhead, through the street packed with cars and pedestrians. In one of those romantic big city moments, all the passengers all got up from their seats and opened the windows on the left side, to get a better view. Not me, I stayed put. Olympic torch. What. Ever.
“Want to see?” My boyfriend asked.
“That’s ok.” I turned up Green Day on my Walkman. Even as I said it, I wondered why I just couldn’t take a peak. People were leaning out the windows of our bus, whistling and cheering the runner on. My boyfriend tried to stay in the seat with me, but he just couldn’t. It was too fun, too once-in-a-lifetime, and he went to the left side of the bus with everyone else, while I looked away and felt superior. All those people, waving to the crowd on the street, so uncool, so naive and so awkwardly human.
So how did I get from there, to here? Why, last Saturday, when the pretend John Lennon strolled through the audience with his guitar, did I sing along with all those baby boomers? Why did I clap and sway and la-la-la through the sections where I didn’t know the words?
Because, although it didn’t happen overnight, eventually it dawned on me that being cynical is basically a big drag, and in the words of John Lennon, I just had to let it go.
What a relief!
After the show last Saturday, my husband and I were in the lobby when members of the cast came out, in costume. Fake John Lennon was immediately surrounded by delighted audience members, buzzing with that glass of white zinfandel they had sprung for during intermission, and lining up for pictures. There was a woman close to my age with high hair and a sparkling dress. “You wanna get your picture taken with John?” she asked, waving me to the spot in front of her in line. I looked at her wide smile. This lady was having a blast. She was getting a picture, an autograph and probably a kiss on the lips, if she had her way. My mirror neurons went off like firecrackers. I’ll have what she’s having, I thought, and stepped in line.
If I could, I’d go back in time to that girl, standing by the ham with her arms folded, and share this little secret with her: giving up cynicism feels a lot like holding onto a balloon, very tightly, then finally letting go. Holding on is ok, but nothing compared to the fun of watching it float away. Going, going, gone…