Hadestown and the Holderness Family: Love Stories and Anxiety

It has been a long two years.

Full stop.

But Sunday, life felt a little sweeter again. My husband and I finally went back to the theater for a live show. I was so excited I even put on lipstick despite the fact that no one would see it behind my required mask.

The show was Hadestown and I didn’t know much about it beyond seeing the cast performance at the 2019 Tony Awards and being gobsmacked. Something in it spoke to me, deeply. But the world was busy back in 2019 and I moved on to the next thing. My mother, meanwhile, has season tickets to the Broadway series at her local theater. Each year, members have the option of opting out of a show, if they prefer. When she read through what was supposed to be the 2020-21 line-up, she mentioned she might opt out of Hadestown. Remembering my reaction to the Tony’s, I immediately begged her not to, that I would love to see it. She was generous enough to let us have the tickets.

Then the world shut down. And it took a long time for shows to return. But eventually, they did.

And finally, this past weekend, it was our turn.

Hadestown is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which if you don’t remember your Greek mythology, is not a story with a happy ending. But it is a love story. Young Orpheus literally follows his lover to hell to try to save her from the Underworld. Hades agrees to let her go under one condition: They can not look back. Upon finally reaching the top and seeing the sun for the first time in ages, Orpheus is so excited he turns back to show Eurydice who was a step still in the Underworld and she disappears.

Despite knowing this tragic ending, I became so enthralled in Anais Mitchell’s songs and the brilliant performances and the gorgeous staging that I kept hoping that maybe, just maybe the ending wasn’t what I remembered. But it was. And I cried because the heartbreak is unbearable and they were so close and how unbearable have the last two years been and how close have we been to beating it only to be saying no to things again with each new variant outbreak?

But holy cow is this a beautiful show that despite its heartbreak is full of hope about creating the worlds we can imagine despite the reality of the world that is. If there is something we all need right now in this current environment of pandemic fatigue and geopolitical conflict, it’s a little imagination as to what could be.

What struck me, however, the most, was the song Wait for Me when Orpheus discovers Eurydice has been gone below and sets out to find her.

I suffer from anxiety. It’s been a part of my life forever but only had a name and diagnosis in the last three years when I landed in a therapist’s office after a series of panic attacks and anxiety spirals had left me unable to function three months after my father died. Through it all, I have had the loving support and grace of my husband. And thank goodness because if you have walked the road of mental illness you know how necessary it is to have someone, just one person, who gets it and gets you and understands the difference between you and your illness because oftentimes the sufferer can’t differentiate between them anymore.

As Eurydice makes the decision to trade her empty stomach and worries of having a warm place to land for the security Hades offers, I understood. Sometimes, you make a choice because you want the discomfort to end. Sometimes that means stuffing down emotions or ignoring your body’s warning signs, and sometimes that means more (please reach out here if you need help). I have never been that far down the road, but the impulse, the desperate need to just make the anxiety stop is real and relatable.

Seeing Orpheus realize what has happened and set off for her immediately, begging her to wait, he’s coming, too, was about so much more than their love story in that moment for me. It was my love story, too. It was every time my husband has reached out to me when I’m spiraling to remind me that I am okay, I am worthy, I am loved. It was every time he didn’t tell me to snap out of it or remind me I shouldn’t worry because look at all the good in my life (yes-there’s a lot of good here, no-mental illness doesn’t care) or tell me to leave him out of it and save it for my therapist. Instead, he follows me down the rabbit hole every time and sits with me in it until I am ready to step back out. Luckily, the same rules of Hadestown don’t apply and I don’t disappear if he looks back for me from the warmth of the sun, instead, he waits until I’m ready to step into the light myself.

This week I was also touched by Kim and Penn Holderness winning The Amazing Race. The Holderness Family first made their break onto the national consciousness when their Christmas Jammies video went viral and they rode their Internet fame into a verified content creator position. Their videos and song parodies focus on the same suburban life with kids we are living. And they happen to live in the same geographic area as we do. To top it off, Penn went to our high school. He certainly didn’t know me, I was a few years behind him, but I knew him by reputation from his turns in the school play and over the top performances with the show choir. My husband (yes, we went to the same high school) was a few years older than me and he and Penn ran in some of the same circles and had some overlap, so it’s also been fun to watch the journey of these people we sort of knew once upon a time.

Kim has been honest about her struggles with anxiety and The Amazing Race editors didn’t ignore it. They often featured it as part of the couple’s main story line, as I am sure it was part of Kim’s every second on the race whether it looked like it or not. I can’t imagine how much harder each moment was for her knowing she was also away from her kids. My kids are the things that usually root me back into the present when I start to spiral. Not being able to see or speak to them for a month must have been extremely challenging in an already challenging situation.

Throughout the race, however, Kim was open when she struggled and Penn just as openly supported her. He walked that walk with her each and every time. And to see that support lead to success was inspiring as a fellow sufferer. I was equally moved to see a well deserved celebration of the spouses who follow us down the road to hell reminding us that they will be here to help guide us back to the sun.

I am not sure how to wrap up these random thoughts from my week other than to say congratulations to Kim and Penn for winning The Amazing Race, go see Hadestown if you can, or listen to the cast album or take it back to the beginning with the genius concept album by Anais Mitchell and friends that eventually became this fascinating show. Then, if you are an anxiety sufferer, take a minute to do the thing today that brings you a little calm (a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend, a bath, a book, meditation, all of the above if you’re me except I won’t call you if we’re friends because that stresses me out a lot but maybe I’ll text you a fun gif) and hug that person in your life who calls after you to wait up when you head into the darkness. Because that person is your love-in-the-moment story whether it’s a parent or a friend or a spouse or a child or just the random stranger who wrote a musical about an ancient love story that spoke to you one day.

And don’t we all need a little more love stories in our lives these days?

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer, mom and unabashed Tar Heel.

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