Yesterday was my middle daughter’s birthday. Katie is 19. Good news was that her birthday happened to coincide with her school’s winter break, which means she got to spend it with us. Bad news was that it also happened to coincide with our first rehearsal for “Jonah.” But Katie was a good sport and let her birthday festivities include lugging equipment and hauling chairs (thanks, Kate) and maybe one of the best all-time spontaneous renditions of the happy birthday song ever (thanks, cast).Last night, to help provide some context for our version of Jonah, I shared with the cast a little personal experience. Five months ago, we put Katie on a plane for New York City. Sure, we scoped the city out ahead of time as best we could. And yes, we sent Suzanne with her for a few days to help get her situated. But there was no getting around the fact that our sweet little girl was off to find her way in the Big Apple.
I confess that a few tears were shed as I was driving home from the airport alone. It was one of those “Sunrise, Sunset” moments. I couldn’t help but think back to a similar chapter in her life five years earlier, when the tears were on the other foot (to use a little-known expression).
It was the first day of school for her 8th grade year. We had just moved from Southern California to Utah. I drove Katie so that Suzanne could handle first day honors for our youngest, Alexandra. Katie and I stood on the sidewalk across the street from the school. Her feet wouldn’t move. We talked about the whole “new-school/first day’s the hardest/you can do it” thing. She started to cry. We talked about it some more. She started to cry more. And still, her feet wouldn’t move. There was nothing I could do or say. Katie did not feel like she belonged in this school and she wasn’t moving.
I had no choice but to call in the big guns; Suzanne soon arrived with the magical mother’s touch, and soon thereafter, Katie was on her way in. Not happy about it, but on her way nevertheless.I’m convinced that Katie’s experience of making it through those middle school doors followed up by making it through similarly dreaded high school doors and a whole bunch of other kinds of dreaded doors have helped make Katie the kind of person who could step through the doors of the Fashion Institute of Technology in midtown Manhattan at the start of last semester, roll up her sleeves and say, “Here I am. Let’s get to work.”
I suppose it isn’t entirely coincidental that there are similarities between the new chapter Katie faced in the eighth grade and the new chapter facing of our imaginer child in “Jonah,” who happens to be an 8th grader named Chloe that is about to start at a new school after a family move.
New chapters in life. Seems like a fitting topic at the moment as we stand here in front of the doors to a new year and a new decade. Sometimes, we choose to take on a new chapter in our life voluntarily, such as a new job or a new relationship. Other times, new chapters can be thrust upon us involuntarily, such as the loss of a job or even a loved one. These unwanted new chapters can have us feeling like misfits longing for the old chapters, where things were a little more comfortable, where we knew where we stood and felt like we belonged.
Our longing to belong is a key theme of our version of “Jonah.” Jonah didn’t feel like he belonged in Nineveh. Humphrey, our great fish, doesn’t feel like he fits in with the other fish. (It’s Humphrey that sings in the show one of the most beautiful sad songs I’ve ever heard, “A Place Where I Belong.”) And Chloe doesn’t feel like she belongs at her new school.
They all feel like misfits.
But, as Chloe’s wise father shares with her, many places where we feel like we don’t belong are precisely the places where we need to be to develop ourselves into the kind of people we need to be and/or where our unique attributes are needed to accomplish a purpose far greater than we now know. But the purpose won’t be achieved necessarily all by itself. It helps if we go into those new chapters, as uncomfortable as they might be, with “A Heart That’s Open” (the title of the finale of the show, another beautiful song – thanks, Aaron). As Chloe does, she discovers there are no misfits in God’s plan.
So hopefully, that is what Katie is discovering in New York City. Maybe it’s a coincidence that her school’s acronym is FIT.
But maybe it isn’t.