The Passion of Sondheim

passion sondheim
Loving you is not a choice
It’s who I am.

It was the fall of 1996. I remember the leaves. Dead and brown, crackling beneath my feet as I faced the steps to the Braddock brownstone. On certain evenings, in late October or early November, the fatigue of an early nightfall left one breathless before tackling those stairs.

On the stereo, the savior Stephen Sondheim and his critically-divisive masterpiece ‘Passion’ played to my heart’s discontent. I’d been hurt, you see, not intentionally, but motive has rarely mitigated heartache. When it breaks, it breaks, and there’s no use in talking yourself out of it or convincing anyone otherwise.

Loving you is not a choice
And not much reason to rejoice
But it gives me purpose
Gives me voice to say to the world
This is why I live, you are why I live.

My mistake was in loving, but no – no – I cannot believe it was a mistake. I saw that even then. I saw it through the pain, through the tears, through the desolate nights of solitude. I saw that my loving someone, however unrequited, however unreturned, would never hurt the world. I was made to love.

Then the world changed.

Not overnight, not in a grand sweeping melodramatic moment, but slowly, gradually, easing the need to love. Yet it would always be a desperation I carried with me. It was something I couldn’t shirk or pretend away, even if I was masterful at hiding it. Almost two decades later, it remains something one doesn’t forget. Like being really cold. Like being terrifyingly lost. Like being… in love.

In this scene from ‘Passion’ the downtrodden anti-heroine Fosca sings her final plea to the man who does not quite love her back – not yet – and in this one musical moment, set on a train near the end of a story that wrenches the hearts of some and vexes the heads of others, I felt a kindred longing, and I returned to that chilly, lonely fall.

Loving you is why I do
The things I do
Loving you is not in my control
But loving you, I have a goal
For what’s left of my life
I would live
And I would die for you.
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