“The Play’s The Thing”
There were these children on this cancer wing
Quite sick and dying, treatment pain would bring.
But most of all they lacked zest through the pain
And knew not how the road of life to gain.
He quiet slipped into their lives one day
Befriended each suggested ‘do a play’.
Their egos jumped to life at Maestro’s touch
But thought the play would not amount to much.
He said to them “Three understudies deep,
For first of all the health of each much keep.
With understudy switch if one steps down,
And if again, the third will take her ground.
But more than this, within a scene or line
All three will dress prepare to step in time
To make the play go on a minute more –
Prepare to go if health requires much more.
You’ll each prepare the way you’d unique do
Your part; but learn the way of other two.
Whoever starts the night sets forth the way;
Each person gets one night to have their say.
“But hey, my man,” one youth called from the back,
“What if this one is better than the pack?
Will he endure the work of lesser men
And do their ‘starts’ substandard and pretend?”
“That greater man’, said Maestro to the lad,
“Will find the task much harder, but be glad
That I am laying down the rules like this,
For what he’ll learn will make for dying bliss.”
“But I’m not dying, “said defensive boy
“But going to live, and leave this place with joy”.
“I know, my friend, you’ve learned now how to live
But how to die – that’s more the gift I give.”
As he objection started once again
He doubled up, convulsed in sheets of pain.
“Quick pull the cord for nurse”, one patient said
“Quick pick it up”, another, “What he plead”.
A girl stepped forward, stepping to the breach
“All very good, you Maestro son-of-beech.
I speak no English good as my sick friend
But I know him – his case I will defend.
“I do not die just like this good boy, Tom.
I go to live, Maria, that’s my song.
With joy indeed I leave this place of pain
And with my freedom, life I’m going to gain.”
The Maestro smiled and said, ‘Your freedom’s now
You took his place, put forth his case somehow.
Life is yours now, not some day down the road
Your song is joy, and not some dirge of woe.”
“But it’s no act, Heir Maestro, I am Tom
And words I say are real and no just song.
I need no understudy for my part
For come the day, I’ll my lines say with heart”.
“Well said, friend Tom, yes that’s indeed well done
But hearts can fail says this old son-of-gun –
And if that happens, what of those who came
To see a play, won’t live to come again.
“Will they see parts all chopped and tossed about
As each new understudy shifts to shout
They’ll not one play but three or more endure
Then leave this place ‘being sick not bad as cure’.”
“OK, for others I will sing
And play their way, so meaning I will bring;
I see your point, so this to Tom I’ll tell,
We want for others ones relief from hell.
Half-way it was to that first opening night
He called the cast and crew to meeting tight
Said, “Now we polish what we’ve already done
Until it’s finished – one for all – for one”.
The others left to do their separate lines
Maria stayed, concern on face and mind.
“Hey, Maestro, ’bout this bossing part you play
What if, in end, director’s heart give way?”
“I have a plan – two more are learning fine
If I’d not had them, then I would recline
And wait to move until they both came forth
To watch me work, and two nights set their course.”
“Where are these two, the two who study you?
Already trouble started with us two –
You Tom and me bit-parts you gave to us
Your little speech designed to cut our fuss.”
“When kid at camp I was the best around
But when assigned – worst boat was what I found
I asked director, ‘Hey, don’t I get best?’
‘No son, it takes top form worst handle like the rest’.”
“You make no sense, you Maestro son-of- beech –
This talk of boats and kids, what talk is this?
I wanted part of lead – you hear me sing –
Now what I do? – one line, and mop I swing.”
“I joined a church, one rule was there for all
Before you join, clean toilets stall by stall.
‘But I’m your leader, I clean toilets too?’
The board just smiled, said, ‘unpaid service too’.”
“Well, I no do the cans for any man
My mom say, ‘Girl hold head as high you can’.”
Tom entered, said, “Maria is my name
As here I come to tell you just the same.”
Maestro just smiled and talked with both a while,
Then held hands high, said “Both – I like your style.
Right from the first, you moved into the breach
Then you, Maria, Tom’s case you beseeched.
Now let me share with you my larger plan
If both agree to quiet stay as can.
You’ve got a job far greater than the rest
To help each person do their very best.”
“I thought that job” said Tom, “Was what you do
While folks like us, my friend and I, you screw.”
The Maestro laughed said with grin, “That’s me –
And for one night, that tone is what they’ll see.”
The two stood quiet as the news sank in,
Then turned to face each other with a grin
“Oh my,” Maria asked “What will you do?
For me, I know, my clown act’s for the shew.”
“I’ll do ‘professor-know-it-all’, I say
They like that one, course, it’s me all he way”
Then Maestro said, “All lines you’ll need to learn,
And for your part, all limelight gently spurn.”
They left the room all chatter ’bout their chore
Called back their thanks, said, “Who could ask for more?”
They learned and helped, supported all each day;
The kids learned fast, from both, each different way.
The concert came, first night a great success;
The second one, the Maestro had to rest.
“Then who will lead?”, the kids asked in alarm.
“Maria can”, said Tom, and took her arm.
“Tomorrow if, the Maestro better is
He’ll lead again, the play idea his.
But if he’s not, I’ll step into his shoes
And help us all each moment not to lose.”
Maria put her clown face on with paint;
Walked through small parts with kids who thought they’d faint;
She joked and held, cajoled and prodded on;
Till evening done, with no great thing gone wrong.
The closing night no Maestro to play came
Tom donned professor’s cloak, and took his cane.
“Now boys and girls”, he said Professor-ly,
“We’ve got a play these folks have come to see.
Lets give our all, I’m sure he’s just delayed
We’ll do just fine each part is three times played.
They sang and danced and played their parts with glee;
The crowd went wild, encores for casts of three.
Then at the mike, the Chief of Doctors all
Said, “Please be seated, crowd, cast great and small.
I’ve got a note to read from Maestro friend
I’ll read it all, this message that he sends.
“Dear friends and cast, tonight I’ll not be there –
At least not seen, perhaps up in the air.
I thank my stand-ins Maria fair and Tom
For helping out as this bad news I found.
“I thank them for their visit here today
To say good-by and send me on my way.
Learned well my role, I’m sue they made out fine
Despite their knowing this bad turn of mine.
“They took small roles, then they helped out the rest;
Learned all your lines, despite their first protest.
I said I’d show you all how you could die
By living fully – here below the sky.
“I’ll not survive the night the doctors said
But that’s OK, I’ve done just what I said.
When first I heard I’d little time to live
I looked around to see what I could give.
“ ‘The play’s the thing’ (I thought back on my life)
Got strong support from children and my wife.
Now you all know, what I have come to see –
It’s as we give ourselves, we come to be.”