Today, I want to tell you a story about a dream that died a long time ago, but it isn’t quite dead.
Helena in Heaven
“Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one and crowned with one crest.”
(Helena, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
And . . . scene!
I peered out into the audience but there was no applause. Only two pairs of droopy eyes and some heavy panting. Maybe a bit of drool? It was to be expected seeing as how my audience was comprised of my beagle mutt and basset hound. I had taken to doing Shakespeare in the basement. Don’t judge. There are worse secret obsessions.
Helena was the role I was born to play. Well, sort of. The script says that Helena towers over her female friend, Hermia. I don’t tower over anyone, at least not anyone fully grown. I am 5 foot 4 in spiked heels. Helena doesn’t wear spiked heels. Huh-uh. Chasing after nefarious forest fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t conducive to sporting stilettos.
So, I never performed my dream role, at least not in its entirety and not for anyone significant.
Well, that’s not quite true either. I peformed highlights from this neurotic and oft misunderstood Shakespearian goddess for the final exam of my advanced acting class in grad school. My professor, Dr. Gillette Elvgren, was a tough audience, tougher than my dogs. He was well known for his Shakespearian adaptions having directed the Bard’s work for decades.
I had a take on Helena that was off the beaten path. I saw something in her that I had never seen performed before: an adorable insecurity paired with an overactive imagination and a strange compulsion for metaphors. I have no idea where my connection with Helena came from as we clearly have nothing whatsoever in common. Ahem.
She just wants the depth of her heartache to be heard. Is that so wrong?
I labored for months over this scene, crafting the nuance of each transition, laboring over every whimsical epiphany, fashioning every fleeting flight of fancy. I was nervous but oh-so-excited to finally play a snippet of this role for a real-live audience, and an educated audience at that. After soaring through the double-cherry section, emphasizing every bizarre but hilarious two to one reductive simile and gently landing on the reflective conclusion, there was genuine, rousing applause from my peers in the audience.
But Elvgren, he just stared. After a while he shook his head and muttered, “I usually cut that scene.” Sacrilege! It is her finest moment. Clearly. How can you cut this brilliant scene?
But . . . in all of his years directing Shakespeare, Elvgren hadn’t seen this side of Helena either. Because, despite my vertical shortcoming, then he said, “You need to play that role.” Triumph! Oh, so sweet the sound of acclimation!
I fed on those words for years.
I never got to play the role of Helena, though. In what waning ingenue years I had left, I took on another far more challenging role, the role of a lifetime, the role of mother. Late night rehearsals didn’t jive with this new part I played so I walked away from acting, my first vocational love. It stung to leave the stage, but my second love was far deeper and more abiding, it was greater than the passion that preceded. God called me to something less notable but more noteworthy.
Now I act on a different kind of stage, one made of a builder-grade carpeted slab downstairs. For a long time, I would steal away while the babies were sleeping and perform Shakespeare in the basement for my dogs. Rather pathetic, I know. My pups are now in heaven along with any hope I have of playing young Helena.
The Apostle Paul said, “Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
Sometimes, God asks us to lay down precious things in order to pick up what He has called us to do. And it doesn’t make sense to people who live without eternity in mind.
I miss acting. I miss digging into a challenging role. I miss the adrenaline of a live performance. I miss making people laugh and cry and think and dream. That is what I did for over a dozen years, and God asked me to lay it down and trust Him. So, I did. The sacrifice left a hole for some time and I keenly felt the loss of it. Ask my poor dogs who listened to countless soliloquies of Portia, Viola, Beatrice, Kate, Lady Percy, and my beloved Helena.
But it was worth it. My family was so worth it. God’s plan was better than the play I would’ve written for myself. I can honestly say that I would choose my homemaker life over Helena any day of the week because it is the race that God has set before me.
Do you know the race that God has set before you? Have you walked away from some precious things to go where He has called?
It’s hard, I know. But these precious things may not be gone forever.
Years ago, I read a mesmerizing book about a sick woman who slipped away from the confines of her mortal body and experienced heaven. Over and over she urged readers to realize how interconnected our lives on earth are with eternity. In heaven, she witnessed lectures given by Martin Luther, and she heard John Wesley preach. She listened to new symphonies from prolific composers and glimpsed new paintings by masterful artists.
You see, who God created us to be is who we will be for all eternity. The writer will write, the singer will sing, the craftsman will build, and the dancer will dance on streets of gold. We are eternal creatures who will one day slip from time and live out our calling on an eternal stage.
So, some dreams may be meant for this earthly sphere, but some may be meant for the other side.
But just when I thought that this dream was buried for good . . . a few months ago, my pastor encouraged us to write out a dream list including all those of things that we yearn to do in life. Secret hopes. Desperate desires. Crazy goals. Buried dreams. “Write them down!” he charged. I hesitated to write this one. I’m too old, too matronly, too short, too far gone to ever play my dream role now.
But somewhere deep inside, the dying embers of a long-lost dream flickered and swelled as if someone was breathing a bit of life onto the charred branches of a fire lit far too long ago.
“Don’t limit God! Nothing is impossible with God!” my pastor exclaimed. So, I wrote it down: “Play the role of Helena, period.”
Oh, I felt so silly, but it’s in writing now. It’s official. It’s on the bucket list.
Who knows, maybe the hubs and I will move to a retirement community someday, and I will join a peppy pack of geriatric players who have a strange desire to dress up like fairies and skip through the forest with their canes and walkers. Yes, we will put on a riveting senior production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and at long last, I will be cast as Helena opposite some matronly soul whose spinal curvature has caused her to shrink more than I have. In the end, I will tower by retaining bone density! Ha!
Or maybe God has some other trick up His sleeve. I wouldn’t put it past Him.
But one way or another, I will play that role . . . even if I have to play Helena in heaven.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright — turned stay-at-home-mother—turned author, speaker and blogger. She is dedicated to helping other women see their worth in a season when they often feel less-than.
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