I have taught Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet more times than I can count, and I love that I learn something new every time (yeah sorry, I'm THAT girl!). I mean how could I not when the story is soaked in life lessons, crazy action and perverse humour?! What is completely fun for me is to see the surprise on students faces as they quickly discover that the play reaches far beyond what they were expecting. After all, it's just a silly tragic love story, right? Who knew Shakespeare had a sense of humour?
One of my favorite moments is in Act 3 Scene 3 when Romeo runs desperately to his mentor & confident the Friar after just killing Juliet's cousin Tybalt (can't totally blame Romeo, Tybalt totally had it coming!). Romeo has only been married for a couple of hours and is loosing his mind over the fact that his rash actions may have just ruined any possibility of happiness. When he discovers that his punishment is banishment instead of execution, Romeo responds with violent tears, falling down in misery and begging to die, after all, "there is no world without Verona walls"! Lucky for me, Romeo's flair for the dramatic stirs up wild conversations and I also get to enjoy listening teenagers judge Romeo for blowing things out of proportion when I have heard them say countless times, "this is the worst day of my life!"
The Friar eventually gets tired of Romeo's over-the-top Oscar winning dramatic performance and shuts him down. He verbally attempts to shake some sense into the boy by listing all of the blessings sitting right in front of him...of course this is after he tells Romeo that his tears are womanish! The reminders include the following facts:
- Juliet is alive.
- Tybalt wanted to kill you, but you killed him instead.
- The punishment for what you have done is death yet you have stuck gold by just being banished.
The best part is, after pointing our each blessing the Friar repeats the phrase, 'there art thou happy' to put emphasis on the existing hope that this irrational teenager isn't caring to see. He is desperately trying to snap Romeo out of his victim response and stop him from focusing on feeling sorry for himself. To me, it is a much longer version of the Moonstruck slap followed by "snap out of it!". And frankly, I think Cher's approach is more effective, but you have to appreciate the patience and determination of the Friar to switch the perspective of a teenager in the mist of loosing his marbles!
The effect of having taught this play so many times is that now the phrase, "there art thou happy" pops into my head the second I want to focus on the negative, frustrating or annoying that is all around. Whether someone cuts me off on the road, my day hasn't gone as I think it should, or wacky craziness appears out of nowhere (seriously, WERE do all the crazy things come from?!), I always hear the Friar in my head saying "there are thou happy" which snaps me back to reality by forcing me to embrace my blessings instead of focusing the wackiness.
It has also made me see a flaw in the over used phrase, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Yes, our experiences shape us, and can contribute to making us stronger people, but more often than not, I believe things happen to,
...show us how strong we already are.
I know I can't control what happens around me or to me, but I can always control how I react. And I have come to realize that I need to spend more time celebrating how strong I am instead of choosing to think I am unworthy, or simply not enough.
What I works best for myself when I about to react to something is to,
- Give Myself Space
It is in the space between something happening and my reacting that I claim my personal power and strength. It is here that I decide:
- to be open instead of shutting down.
- allow myself to see I have options.
- assess the outcomes to the possible reactions I could have.
- to choose kindness over fear, blame or judgement.
- claim my personal power instead of victim-hood.
- to react as the person I truly want to be.
Romeo & Juliet can be summed up into one phrase (once again, a Friar quote), "wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast". And when it comes to how I react to situations, caring enough about myself to make space before actually reacting never fails to show me how strong I actually am.
And when in doubt, I list my blessings because, there art I happy!