Icy rain laced the snow, coating the sidewalks between the Times Square subway station and the theater. My son and I pulled hoods close to our faces and minimized our activities other than claiming our seats for The Lion King. There were things we knew ahead from watching segments on YouTube. Stilts, eclectic animal costumes, familiar songs with words in Zulu and Swahili. But a live, human performance was something we have sorely needed these past winter months. Life and school seem drenched in inescapable drudgery. We painlessly turned off our phones for the day, held close to each other and received the artistry. There are not correct words to describe live theater.
When my son was about three years old, and Susanna about two, we obtained an old VHS version of the animated film and popped it into a player. When we reached the middle, and Mufasa was ascertained as officially dead, Susanna lapsed into inconsolable grief. She sat on the sofa and wept for a long time. She refused from then on to watch that film, and never saw the rest. Memories like this make me wonder about the things only our souls know, leaking out just a bit, mysteriously. I wonder if Susanna was remembering her mission in some small way. I wonder if she was knowing that our foursome, full of cartoons and frivolity, was going to be gone abruptly in a few years and never regained, due to her untimely death. This is a sad and irreparable situation, still.
I wept a lot during the live performance. I did not start when Mufasa died, but at the beginning of the first number as the performers entered the stage from all sides. I wept mostly in relief, because I have felt so far apart from life lately. Amidst the music and energy, I realized that life was still waiting for me. Things have been difficult, but I have not died. The stress and problems have not evaporated, but I feel a bit more accepting and a bit less alone since this.
When the play reached its midpoint, and again Simba’s father did in fact die, I glanced around to see if any children were crying. We were in proximity to many little girls. Mufasa was pushed to his death and I heard one girl in front state, matter-of-factly, “That was mean”.
Another little girl behind me asked, innocently, “What happened?” I did not observe any children crying, but it was a huge sea of red velvet seats and I could not see everyone.
This brought to my mind an exercise I learned in therapy. When I fear that my child is going to die suddenly (this happens quite a bit, since I have experienced this firsthand), I picture two adjoining screens. To the left, there are the few children who die, like Susanna. On the screen to the right are the many billions of children who do not die. There is a typical journey. It is the few and certainly not the many who leave so early. It helps sometimes.
If we all continue after our death, as I am sure we do, and we reunite with loved ones on the other side, there is nothing left to genuinely be afraid of. Mufasa himself tried to make light of this, in his royal way of describing that he will join his ancestors in the cosmos. That is fine, masterfully demonstrated in the starry stage props, but I want more. I will keep seeking Susanna and how she remains with me, though I accept that I have purchased one velvet seat beside me instead of two. It is a messy and uncomfortable process.
We returned home on the subway. As it was rush hour, we were in seats but separated. I looked at my son sitting on his own and noticed how in between things he is, his body nearly adult sized but his face obviously young. I am not him, but I imagined the enormity of how that must feel. Growing into his adult throne and kingdom of sorts, whatever it will be. He is at the point where baby Simba becomes adult Simba and searches himself beyond the borders.
Later at home, we remembered more about watching our animated The Lion King. For days we had called my S.O. Mufasa, and he had lifted my son, Simba, above the imaginary cliff as if beginning the circle of life. I also remembered more things about Susanna and Disney cartoons. How she refused to stop rewinding and searching Bambi because she wanted to see the hunter who killed Bambi’s mother. She could not accept having that happen without seeing who was responsible. My son and I kept explaining that the shot came from a hunter, and she kept saying, “But I cannot see him!”
It would be a couple of years past Bambi and the mystery shooter, when Susanna would often sit quietly in front of a screen, watching Frozen and singing “For the First Time in Forever”. In my memory she was present in body, but also ethereal, like we all are. Her eyes reflected her deep concentration, her body was taken into the song. This was happening right as we approached the door, the day between then and now. That song from Frozen became my constant companion in the early time after Susanna died, playing in my mind throughout the days. I hoped she was singing to me from a broader and grander ballroom than I could offer here.