Control and order

Sometimes you have to start small,
Climbing the tiniest wall
Maybe you’re going to fall,
But it’s better than not starting at all!

~ ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ (Anyone Can Whistle, Sondheim)

A main character of Sondheim’s ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ is a nurse in a lunatic asylum, which is quirkily referred to as the cookie jar and her patients as cookies. While the main theme is what is ‘normal’ (we could all be seen as crazy), when Roberto and I saw an intimate production of it last week at the Jermyn Theatre, I identified with the nurse, and her story was the one that spoke to me.

Control and order are what’s important to the nurse. Well, control and order are what make her feel secure. And as much as she wants to, she can’t let go.

For me, the rigidity of control and order has always made me feel safe. Everything contained where it should be. I’ve spent a lot of time planning for the future; planning for the future makes me feel secure and sure of my path. Of course the problem is that the future, no matter how much or how meticulously you plan, is never certain.

Sondheim’s nurse is only able to break out of her rigidity when she pretends to be someone else, even though she does want to be more flexible. She realises the simplist things are often the hardest.

Striving for control and order takes a lot of energy, much more than being able to go with the flow, and having the flexibility to move with the ebbs and flow of life. But it’s easier said than done; especially when you’ve spent a large part of your life striving for control.

Perhaps if I’d been less of a rigid person, I would have been able to cope slightly better when Sofia died. For a very long time it felt as if my world was spinning out of control. The future path I’d planned and had almost grasped had been smashed beyond repair. There was no way I would be able to even make one step in that direction. But I didn’t want to let go of my future with Sofia and I wasn’t able to let go of it.

The nurse’s love interest tells her that the most important thing is being alive. Living each moment as it comes. You can miss out on the present because you’re too busy thinking about the future, a future which may or may not happen.

Being alive, and being alive right at this moment, is enough to celebrate. And some disorder isn’t always a bad thing.

What’s hard is simple
What’s natural comes hard
Maybe you could show me
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.

~ ‘Anyone Can Whistle’


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