Last night, Tyler and I were fortunate enough to see the West Hollow Middle School’s production of CATS, the broadway musical. My cousin, Christopher, was performing as Macavity, and what more can I say, except that the entire cast was absolute perfection!
Anyway, you are probably wondering what the point of this blog post is? Well, CATS, the broadway musical, has always held a special place in my heart. It was one of the first broadway musicals that I ever went to when it was originally on broadway, and because we knew one of the actors, I was fortunate enough to be taken behind the scenes, and even had my face painted like one of the actors.
The song, Memory, from the musical CATS has also held a special place in my heart. But, while I sat in the audience last night, I realized that my experience with a chronic illness, such as Lymphedema, left me feeling very much like Grizabella, the “Glamour Cat.”
For those unfamiliar with Grizabella, let me introduce you to her character. Throughout the play she is portrayed as an elderly cat, weathered by age and life, which has left her nearly unrecognizable to the cat she once was before. Throughout the play, the other cats are repulsed by Grizabella. They do not touch or welcome her around, but rather, they shun her. But, at the end of the play, Grizabella sings the song “Memory,” and is ultimately chosen by Old Deuteronomy to be “reborn.” It is at this time, that the other cats start to accept, welcome, and embrace her as one of their own.
The lyrics to “Memory,” so profound and devastatingly beautiful, reduced me to tears last night. I was Grizabella, the “Glamour Cat,” and had been for many years.
Below are the lyrics, and my own interpretation, which I believe my fellow Lymphies can relate to, as well as others suffering from chronic illnesses.
“Midnight not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan
Memory all alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
Every street lamp
Seems to beat a fatalistic warning
Someone mutters at the street lamp gutters
And soon it will be morning
Daylight I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
The street lamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning
Touch me it’s so easy to leave me
All alone with my memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You’ll understand what happiness is
Look a new day has begun”
When dealing with a chronic illness, such as Lymphedema, it can leave you feeling “lost” and leave you feeling like you are spiraling out of control. It can also leave you feeling like you are in the ocean, while the waves crash down, without an anchor in the turbulent storm of life. It is easy to fall into the rabbit hole with little energy or desire to climb back out. It becomes easier to say, “What’s the point?” It becomes easier to succumb to the life you have been unfairly dealt.
In the beginning, I felt just like Grizabella, weathered and aged by my diagnosis despite the fact that I was young and vibrant. Each day was breaking me down until I did not recognize who I was looking at in the mirror. Although I pushed everyone away after I was diagnosed, I like Grizabella, secretly longed for someone to touch me, to ground me, and to tell me that Lymphedema had not changed me. I needed someone to tell me that I was still the same person I was before Lymphedema. The world kept moving, time kept passing, and people’s lives eventually moved on, with or without me. I like Grizabella, was trapped with my memories “of my days in the sun,” with only me left to rescue me.
However, although Grizabella was vulnerable, she was also a survivor. Similarly to Grizabella, I remained hopeful that one day I would accept my diagnosis and thrive despite it. Deep down, I knew that I could not let Lymphedema win, but rather, I had to fight it both emotionally and physically. Similarly to Grizabella, I remained hopeful that at some point my diagnosis and the painful days of isolation, emotional fatigue, and physical pain and exhaustion, would be a distant memory, one that would cause me to grow and would shape me into the woman I would later become. Although I felt broken down and beaten, I remained hopeful a new day would come, and with it, happiness and new memories to accompany my own treasured collection of memories from before Lymphedema.
I believe, in a way, we are all “Grizabella,” yearning and longing for someone to touch us, to feel our pain, and to validate our experiences. But, as humans, we remain hopeful in the face of adversity. Hopeful for new research, hopeful for a cure, and hopeful that no matter how dark the days ahead may be, there will always be a new day to come.
Last night, the beautiful lyrics of “Memory” brought me to tears in the audience. I saw my broken and fragile self in the mirror when looking at Grizabella, but I also saw how far I have come since my diagnosis. I saw the brave, strong, and hopeful woman sitting in the audience. I know now that I am the same person I was before I was diagnosed, with more happiness and beautiful memories to last a lifetime, but I also have scars that have molded me into the woman I have become.
One of my best friends was sitting next to me last night in the audience. At the end of the performance of “Memory,” she leaned over to me and said, “You have been reborn too.” And, she was absolutely correct, I have been and you can be too. We are all Grizabella, the “Glamour Cat,” which means we have the ability to remain hopeful, and we all have the ability to thrive despite our chronic illness, and we all have the ability to find happiness once again.