This past weekend I had the pleasure of helping put on a (hugely abbreviated) production of Into The Woods at my church. I hadn’t seen the movie that came out a few years ago and to be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the music for a good long while. Sondheim is hard y’all.
For those who aren’t familiar, the musical takes several fairytales and sort of puts them in a blender and adds music. Having ultimately enjoyed our short version, I will now watch the longer movie. Throughout our production, our minister interjected thoughts about the lessons in the fairy tales and it got me paying attention to those old themes.
One of the fairy tales that is woven throughout the play is Rapunzel. It caught my attention especially because I just read a retelling of it last year (Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, I recommend it). It also caught my attention because of the haunting and extremely repetitive line that Rapunzel sings over and over again. The prince who is in love with her is driven mad by the singing as he attempts to climb her hair.
The whole thing got me to thinking of how Rapunzel’s plight plays out for many folks. In our modern and non-fairy tale world we are not locked away in towers by a vengeful witch. We may be confined by circumstance and society. And we may also be constrained, limited to towers of our own making.
For many of us fear is the witch. Fear of being bigger: fear of being bolder, fear of being more real, more vulnerable, more easily hurt. And so we choose confinement. We choose solitude, isolation, sameness, predictability and routine. We choose these things because it feels safe. The witch acknowledges that there is good stuff out there in the big world, but that it is not worth the enormous risk we would have to take to get there. “Don’t you know what’s out there in the world? Someone has to shield you from the world. Stay with me.” And over time, we forget that our tower is of our own devising. We forget that we created it with choices, thoughts, and assumptions. We think that location (or job, or spouse, or whatever other circumstance you think it’s all about) is the problem and if we could just change THAT, but we can’t change that, so…
So just like Rapunzel we occupy ourselves with maintenance of the tower. Rapunzel’s prince laments the amount of time she spends maintaining her hair, her hair that is both magical gift and the key to her entrapment. The witch uses it to gain access to Rapunzel knowing that Rapunzel cannot climb down her own hair: her hair that makes excessive motion too difficult to think about, her hair that suggests that she must be saved rather than that she could escape on her own, her hair that has magical healing powers. She takes care of it. She preserves it. And waits.
How Rapunzel’s story goes from there depends on who is telling it. In the retelling our young captive has varying degrees of complicity, courage, pluck, and brilliance. What happens to the witch also depends on which version of the story (“original,” Disney, Kate Forsyth) you encounter.
But none of that really matters for the real story here. None of that really matters for your story. None of that makes a bit of difference if you look at your life and you feel trapped. I’ve had that trapped feeling, and while I can’t say it’s the absolute worst, because whatever awful feeling you’re having in a given moment is usually the absolute worst, but trapped ranks up there for me. Feeling like I have no ability to change the circumstances of my life is a killer. Thinking that I can’t change the one thing that would make me happier is so demoralizing.
And then I remember that that is a thought. That notion is like a single stone that I used to create my own tower. That idea is one that adds to the wall every time I have it. And working to change those thoughts, rather than caring for them and carrying them around is the way out. I work towards a thought that allows me to believe that I can change things and that if I believe that, the way to do it will become more clear. I don’t aid and abet those who would help wall me in with limited notions of my capacity. I don’t assist by bowing to convention or tradition. I choose which of my gifts to nurture. I choose where to put my time and energy. And I DON’T wait for rescue.