The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut is a building full of stories. The building itself goes back almost one hundred and fifty years when it first opened as a theater. When the original owner died a few years later, so did his vision for the place and the building became a militia base, a general store, and then a storage facility for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Around 1960, someone caught sight of the original dream. They looked at the building and saw an opportunity others had missed, so they raised money and worked to restore it. Since 1963 it has hosted musical theater. Annie and Man of LaMancha both began there and went on to worldwide fame.
Last night, the Goodspeed hosted Ginger, Rachel, and I for a performance of a new musical, Christmas in Connecticut, which is based on the 1945 movie of the same name starring Barbara Stanwyck and is one of our holiday favorites. The tickets were my early Christmas gift to Ginger and her mother. None of us had been in the building before.
The first floor of the Goodspeed–at least what you can see when you walk in–is a grand staircase that leads to a mezzanine level that is a small lounge, restrooms, and more stairs. The theater itself is on the second floor. For the uninitiated, such as we were, it is hard to notice that behind the grand staircase is a bar with snacks and drinks. We were upstairs and in our seats before we realized we had missed getting water and coffee.
The show was good. The way they adapted the storyline from the movie to work on the stage was well done. The actors had strong voices. The plot was engaging. And by intermission, we were thirsty. I ventured back down the stairs to the main floor where I saw a staff person selling bottled water for $2. Cash only. I didn’t have two dollars. I climbed back up to our seats and reported to Ginger and Rachel and Ginger said she had two dollars. Cash in hand, I went back downstairs. A man and a woman were in front of me. The man swapped his money for water and smiled as he passed me. The woman turned and walked away and when I stepped up the attendant said, “I’m out of water.”
I dropped my shoulders and sighed. Then I worked my way back to the bar, but the line was about ten deep. I climbed my way back to our seats and reported to Ginger what had happened. As I was talking to her, a man a couple of rows back stepped close to me and said, “You were looking for water and I got the last one. I heard you sigh as I walked off. I had a drink before the show. You need this more than I do, so give me your two dollars and you can have the water.”
I thanked him, handed him the money, and took the water bottle.
I didn’t realize he had been in front of me, or that he heard me. I didn’t see him standing near me when I came back to my seat. His act of kindness only happened because he was paying attention and saw a chance to take care of someone else.
That’s the only contact we had. When the play finished, everyone began moving the same direction and then funneled to single file to go the stairs and out into the clear Connecticut night. It was incidental contact, but that’s what makes up most of our days–a series, or perhaps a collection, of brief exchanges that add up to a day or a month or a life much like a sequence of steps becomes a dance or a pilgrimage and an ordering of words becomes a sentence or a scene.
What stories do our lives tell by the way those exchanges unfold?
When Jesus tried to explain what it meant to live compassionately, he said, “I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.” That statement makes more sense to me tonight than ever before because I was thirsty and a guy who didn’t have to gave me his water in the middle of a musical called Christmas in Connecticut.
You can’t make this stuff up.
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