Xanadu and the Meaning of Life
(Photo: Xanadu: hysterical musical kitsch; or guidepost to the meaning of earthly existence?)
On Sunday, Mr. New Guy and I were in the audience at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place (there’s a name that could be shorter) for the final performance of the touring production of Xanadu. The musical was hysterical fun, but I was struck most by the line uttered by ancient-Greek-god Zeus to the former-muse Clio/now-mortal Kira that launches the show into the finale:
“To love another person and create art––that is Xanadu!”
Hearing that line, my inner Buddhist instantly perked up his Scooby-Doo ears. Buddhist dharma (and the teachings of every other religion I can think of) would suggest we all have an intrinsic nature of being beyond the mundane world we take for granted as reality. But as the price for coming to hang out on Earth for awhile, we forget our ineffable–or if you will, Divine–natures. We spend our lives never recognizing the true sum of what we are.
Heading down Michigan Avenue after the show, we stopped into a Starbucks where a bit of my nature was definitely recognized.
“Wait! I know you! Do you write a blog?” asked the barista, a young Asian woman, as soon as I walked up to the counter.
“Yes,” I offered, somewhat cautiously. After all, I was standing in a coffee bar and you may remember the controversy that erupted the last time I chatted with a barista. “I’m Chicago Carless.”
“Yeah!” the enthusiastic Starbucker replied. “I knew it! I’m Marian, I follow you on Twitter, and I’m on the Chicago Reporter Reader’s Bureau with you.” Had I attended my first Reader’s Bureau meeting, I probably would have recognized Marian right back.
She continued. “I just read the piece you wrote about the Mold-A-Ramas from the Brookfield Zoo. Hey! Wait a minute…”
Oh God. I knew what was coming.
“Is this Mister New Guy?!”
But by the way his eyes bugged out when she asked, he apparently didn’t.“She’s lucky you weren’t out with someone else,” he would tell me later.
Which leads me back to the ineffable nature of humankind.
If only our true identities were as familiar to us as headshots in the sidebar of a web page, we wouldn’t keep asking questions like: Where do we come from? Why are we are? And why do we do what we do?
God knows (I know I wish I did) why I feel driven to blog my way into the meaning of my life on an ongoing basis. For that matter, what drove those Xanadu performers into careers of nightly make-believe? What is the point of artistic expression, anyway? Simply, as the hackeneyed phrase would have it, to “imitate life”?
Buddhism offers one simple answer to most age-old questions like these: to wake up. If we truly are greater beings than we take ourselves to be, cut off from knowledge of our real natures while we live out our days in this world of SUVs, Suzie Orman, and ozone depletion, then maybe we’re driven to create art as a way to represent the memory of an esoteric origin we all share but cannot know for certain? Creating works of emotional or aesthetic resonance as a means of scratching a seminal spiritual itch, as it were.
And if that’s so, could it be that the point of life, itself, is simply to try and remember who we are? Could our task here on earth be nothing more or less than recapturing the sense of the Divine through the manner in which we live our lives? In which we love one another?
Some traditions would say we’re not motivated to fall in love solely by the personality of our loved one, but because of the sense of the Universe/God/the Divine (take your pick) that we feel when we look into our beloved’s eyes. In a sense, an idea that coming to love another is really coming to remember your connection to All That Is.
And if the reason we live and love is the same as the reason we create art, then how could anyone ever accuse art of imitating life? Because if you accept those terms, life is art.
As Oscar Wilde–and Ovid long before him–might argue, maybe, just maybe, the quality of the lives we lead really does matter. We can sleepwalk through life, or we can strive for the awareness to act, create, and love in ways that inspire one another and aspire to the Divine.
Clues to the meaning of life in a cheekily fabulous jukebox stage show? Just another question to add on to the list. But I do know at least one other person in whose eyes I am constantly reminded of all the playful, creative forces in God’s toolbox.
And that feels a lot like Xanadu to me.