Monday Morning Musings
“Just another love story, that’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story – aren’t all of them the same?”
“Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am.”
–Stephen Sondheim, Passion
On Saturday, we saw Passion, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that explores what it means to love and be loved. What is romantic love? What is passion? What is obsession? How and why do dreams and desires change? These are questions that Sondheim explores in the story of the nineteenth-century Italian army officer Giorgio who is having an affair with a married woman, Clara. The show opens with the lovers in bed singing of their happiness, but then Giorgio reveals that he has received a transfer to a remote military outpost. Shortly after his arrival there, Giorgio learns of Fosca, his commanding officer’s sister whose place is set at the table, but who seldom appears there. Before long, Fosca, declares her love to Giorgio, a man she barely knows. In fact Fosca, who suffers from a vague and debilitating illness, is obsessed with Giorgio. This production at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia had a cast with wonderful voices, but it also featured a great set and lighting design: Clara was lovely and beguiling in pink-hued gowns, and bathed in golden sunshine whenever the shutters in their Milan hotel room were opened. (The lovers could only meet in the afternoon because of her husband.) Clara loves Giorgio, but perhaps her love is a diversion from her humdrum life. Fosca appears in drab gowns with the gray and dreary view of the outpost in the background. Fosca suffers from a disease of the mind and spirit, as well as her physical ailments. Or perhaps they are all one and the same. They consume her, and her obsession consumes Giorgio.
The show is based on the novel Fosca, by Ignio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti was dying of tuberculosis–also called consumption–as he wrote the book, which was inspired by events in his own life. The book was turned into a movie, Passione d’Amore (1983).
What does passion mean? Passion is an intense feeling. Long ago it was associated with pain and suffering, as in the passion of Christ, or the suffering endured by martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs. Passion is often seen as an emotion that is barely controllable because of its intensity. People are often depicted as crazed with passion. Passionate love then can be both good and bad. One can have a passion for a cause that is admirable, or that becomes obsessive.
I’ve been thinking about all this because of events in the news. There is a couple in Australia, Nick and Sarah Jensen, who have vowed to divorce if a gay marriage law is passed there. (See this article.) They are entitled to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how the marriages of same sex couples affect their own union at all. And just as a matter of logic, I don’t understand why if they reject the state’s definition of marriage—if the law passes—they then believe the state has the power to grant them a divorce. I guess it’s passion, and not logic that is in play here.
In the US, evangelist Franklin Graham, called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank after the bank began airing a TV advertisement that featured a lesbian couple adopting a child. (The commercial is incredibly sweet.) Well, economic boycotts have a long tradition in the US. My inclinations would be not to support a business that discriminates against a group rather than one that is supporting diversity. Again, Graham has the right to his own beliefs, and he does say businesses should be “gay friendly.” However, he also apparently believes that an organization should not support a position that he feels is contrary to his views–which are based on his interpretation of the bible. Do no harm to others–just don’t allow them all the same rights, I guess. Fortunately, we do not live in a theocracy. (See this.)
Neither Graham nor the Jensens advocate violence. But there are true haters, people passionate in their hatred of others. I saw this article yesterday about a young man who has been beaten and tortured—ostensibly because he is gay. His family and their business have also suffered.
You know what? Sondheim was right that every love story is the same–and every love story is different. But I believe in love. Love is love. I believe love is good. I believe love is good for families and nations. When two people who are in love—consenting adults–want to get married, it does not harm society, even if they are gay, and even if they want to have a family. “Gay marriage” is no different from straight marriage in terms of love and commitment. Couples love and share passion. This is not immoral.
You know what is immoral?
People living in extreme poverty.
Women—and children—kidnapped and raped as tools of war.
Depriving people of medical care and education.
It seems to me that if people are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their societies, those are just a few things they might focus on—not who people love. But hey, that’s just me.
As far as those filled with hate for others, I don’t know. I don’t think a hate-filled mind can love, although it can be filled with passion.