Turns out he did have a second chance. Condemned to eternal boredom in Heaven, Billy Bigelow is given a single day to return to Earth. There, the hot-tempered, brawling carnival barker must attempt to make things right for the daughter he never met.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel opened 75 years ago to an emotionally vulnerable American public. FDR had just died, but the war was turning our way. People were cautiously absorbing what we had collectively gained and working to process what we had lost.
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The musical makes this loss personal. Early in the show, Billy proclaims that “you can have fun with a son, but you have to be a father to a girl.” Returning to Earth, he becomes that father. In the memorable final scene, Billy (as ghost) attends his daughter’s high school graduation. Somehow, both widow and child sense his presence, feel his love, and thus gain the personal strength to “walk through the storm.” Billy’s redemption is complete — and comes despite, not because of, his non-human form.
Back on Earth circa 2020, recent changes to our own personal rules of engagement popped up as quickly as a knife fight, upending our antiquated ideas of placeness. There was the place we were told to remain — and everywhere else. After, after a few days, we figured out that we, too, had a reprieve. With technology, we could “go” to any place we wanted.
Faced with life events bound to unmovable dates, an innately cautious adult cohort quickly adapted with good-natured acceptance. Virtual drop-ins to the rites of birth, marriage, and even death were different — but far better than isolation.
For millions, these Zoom ceremonies were their first out-of-body experience. Each participant was somehow at the ceremony — but not. What was happening? For most, there was a personal reckoning, resulting in a slightly readjusted understanding of self.
From these intimate engagements emerged an unintended but profound consequence: for a few moments, we were (almost) angels. In the virtual ceremony, we didn’t need to walk, eat, smell, or bundle up. Yet, elsewhere, the real-life participants felt our ineffable presence. Zoom, it seemed, had liberated us from our bodies.
What’s next? No less a futurologist than Mark Cuban is already speaking about “America 2.0.” No one doubts that we will all have a front seat as the nature of social interaction changes, both by degree and structure. Less appreciated is the upcoming subtle but important evolution of our spiritual understanding: perhaps not the Great Awakening — but certainly at least the “Great Awareness.”
Carousel tugs our heart because we know that, like Billy, we possess a soul that desires perfection. And, like Billy, that soul yearns for a chance to try again — to be a better spouse, parent, child, friend, or simply a better human. Unanticipated events have produced this short-term Zoom reprieve. Living for just a few hours as primarily spiritual beings, we too have tasted redemption.
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