A spot of grocery shopping, a few diapers changed, dinner, a chat on the phone, a shower, a shave, and an arduous mission retrieving a small round dog toy from under the couch – that has been my day today, and all in all, little to write home about, certainly nothing demanding deep consideration, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing strange. That is, if it weren’t for three incontrovertible Facts:
- The universe contains well over 500,000,000,000 galaxies, with each galaxy containing over 1,000,000,000,000 stars, which our vast, blazing and life-bestowing sun … is one.
- The Earth is 4,600,000,000 years old, in which time, from the Pre-Cambrian Era to the Present, a dizzying, terrifying number of inhabitants – amoebas and trilobites, dust mites and Neanderthals – have all struggled to live from one hour to the next. (Indeed, more living creatures are in my stomach (and yours) at this moment than the total number of human beings that have ever existed.)
- I will die. I will be dead in sixty years, though it’s entirely conceivable that I’ll be dead before the week is out.
And suddenly all the props holding up my warm and secure little existence are kicked away and used for kindling. The imagination is taxed to exhaustion and left numb and agape when it even begins to fathom the implications of these Facts. They beggar the most breathless hyperbole. Three simple Facts, three confirmed and undeniable Facts – the immensity of the universe, the incomprehensibly vast history of the Earth, and our inescapable mortality – loom over all of us like three paisley mastadons. When I shine these three Facts upon any moment in my life, suddenly nothing, absolutely nothing, isn’t strange, bewildering, and out of all whooping. These Facts turn every memorable or trivial or utterly forgettable moment of my existence – shopping, eating trout with spouse, lying prostrate retrieving dog toy – uinto the Apothesois of the Comic and Tragic, the Inconsequential and Crucial, the Banal and Profound. These Facts loom so large, in fact, that they are rather easily ignored. Three paisley mastadons get up with us in the morning and sleep with us at night but, for the most part, they’re very quiet pachyderms, and consequently, amazingly, they blur into the unimportant background, even though one day, with trumpeting bellows, they will trample me into oblivion. Time and again I explain to myself that these Facts are interesting, profound even, but not pertinent to my daily life. NO. In truth, everything else is but shadow compared to these Facts. They are the trump cards to all the ordinary cards I hold in my hand and call “my life.”
I write plays to help keep these Three Facts in the front of my head. In other words, I write to try to keep my self engaged with the Bewildering and Infinite. But why did I write Underneath the Lintel in particular?
All my plays are first inspired by music, and Underneath the Lintel was inspired particularly by certain klezmer/Yiddish music from the 1920s (and earlier). The “jaunty melancholy,” the “dancing-despite-it-all” quality it contained, the defiance even – a certain “finding-joy-despite-all-the-evidence-to-the-contrary” quality to the music – compelled me to try to express it as a play.
But my point isn’t that we should all believe in the Wandering Jew, or even God, for that matter. Rather, anything at all—for the Librarian it was an impossibly overdue book—can be an invitation to the miraculous. And also this: That in the face of overhwleming existential bewilderment and terrible suffering, to respond with a little defiant dancing (in all its myriad forms) is a very human and very wondrous thing.