Too Late?

This past Friday, I attended Opera Maine's production of Verdi's La Traviata. La Traviata is frequently staged and is among the world's most well-known and beloved operas. But that didn't stop me from seeing and hearing fresh and exciting things from this powerful performance, especially soprano Maria Natale who portrayed the title character Violetta. Ms. Natale dramatized acutely the passion of a woman caught between honor and love and, in the midst of tragedy, song and joy.

Perhaps others were not as moved as I was, having a greater familiar with Verdi's masterpiece and, more general, opera. I'm "late" to opera, an odd fact since I'm no stranger to the performing arts. Yet despite having nurtured a love for theater and classic music from a very early age, opera somehow escaped my notice. Now I can't get enough.

In our lives, "too late" can be tragic. Violetta sings, "Farewell past, happy dreams of days gone by. The roses in my cheeks already are faded.” In other ways, being "too late" is just what we need. Henry James once wrote, "What is there in the idea of 'too late'--of some passion or bond...formed too late?" The idea would serve as the basis of many of James' greatest works, including "Beast in the Jungle" and his last novel The Golden Bowl Like my newly-acquired love of opera, James' characters found that what or who they were looking for was always present but never appreciated. (BTW, the word "appreciate" is under appreciated. Often substituting for almost-indifferent form of love, the word's etymology, from the Latin appretiat, to set a price, is defined by OED as "to estimate rightly, perceive the full force of").

As a teacher of humanities and a psychotherapist, I'm always searching for ways to integrate together my experience of both fields. And here's an important similarity between a good liberal arts education and that of engaging in psychotherapy: they both keep the possibility of enlarging one's sense of self and one's world alive. Even when we are no longer in the classroom, the lessons we learned live on, often showing their "full force" once we have grown or experienced life. Then we can take that book off the shelf again and give it another reading.

So too when we engage in therapy in one very significant way. Dedicating ourselves to resolving bad patterns or understanding ourselves better with the help of another can be life changing. Despite our past resistances, there is never a "too late" to appreciate (in James' words) the "passions or bonds" in and with ourselves and others. In fact, what feels like "too late" may be just the right time since we were not ready beforehand. As James once said, "“The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have.”

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