“Oh, what's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet . . .”
~Wm. Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet
Those familiar with Wm. Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo & Juliet know that the two star-crossed lovers meet, fall in love, marry, and die; all in four days. The parents learn of their children’s forbidden love only after Romeo & Juliet kill themselves. The entire community is left bereft. In the end, “All are punished” (Act III, scene iii).
A series of unfortunate events, disregarded despite being portentous, leads to the inevitable conclusion. But, Romeo and Juliet ignore the celestial warning signs and continue on their collision course. If only they had told their parents; if only they had received better counsel; if only they hadn’t forged ahead with such lightening speed; what if their parents had seen past their own issues? If only and what if . . . those questions are what make this play timeless.
I have read the play so many times, I have almost memorized it. But, I read it now with a different perspective from when I studied it years ago. I examine the back story; the story of the parents. They clearly love their children, but they can’t let go of their own history. That is what ultimately leads to the tragedy; they fail to understand that, “what light through yonder window breaks?” (Act II, scene ii) is not about them; it’s about their children’s future.
This age-old story and the experiences of my own life remind me how important it is to let go of your own issues so that you can fully love and accept another. I realized how vital that is when I began putting together a digital photo album in tribute to my mother-in-law who turns 90 this year. Because, as I was scanning and organizing, I clearly saw how much she loves her grandson, my son. But the pictures, while poignant, tell only part of the story.
There have been so many times that her unconditional love has carried us all.
I remember how, after an exhausting work week, we would often drive the 60 miles into Chicago, fall into bed, and wake up the next morning to a Fisher-Price rendition of “twinkle twinkle little star.” I would finally stumble into the living room to find grandmother and grandson spread out on blankets all over the floor; cookie crumbs, milk, toys, and books strewn about, and she grinning from ear to ear. Her pleasure was palpable.
I recall, too, the times we went to one of the many specialists he saw in Chicago. Grandma would accompany us, bullying her way to the front of the El train so her grandson could get a seat with a full view of the tracks. We would see the Doctor, which usually involved some painful procedure or another. Afterwards, she would gather him (and us) up, take us to Marshall Fields, buy us lunch, and insist on purchasing toys, clothes, and anything else her grandson’s heart desired. She turned a difficult trip to the Doctor into one of joy and surprise.
In later years, she came for band concerts and ball games, science fairs and parent nights. She brought bags of junk food, cooked his favorite meals, and made sure that every birthday, every holiday, and every day celebrated him. When he went away to College, she became renowned for her double chocolate chip cookies. And when we visited, his friends all clambered to meet the “cookie baking Grandma.”
So, when he came out to us, we gently told Grandma. Without hesitation, she put all of her preconceived ideas about LGBTQ individuals aside, disregarded the dictates of her own upbringing, and embraced him as she always has. She had the wisdom to know that:”That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” She continues to demonstrate that whether her grandson is gay or straight, her love is unconditional.
And that’s why our story is one of triumph, not tragedy. We learned from a woman what true love is, and we are enriched and nourished because of it. The real tragedy of Romeo & Juliet and of parents and families who do not get past their own issues is that they lose everything when they don’t accept their children for who they are. It is the Prince in Romeo & Juliet who says, “See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate, that heaven finds means to kill your joys with love . . . All are punished!” (Act V, scene iii).
We are indeed the fortunate ones. “For stony limits cannot hold love out” (Act11, scene ii). And for that, we are all the richer.
. . . And I’m just a mom who loves her son . . .
*Previously published in www.thequ.co