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The Road Not Taken: What I Learned From Watching Mamma Mia

“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.” –Frank Sinatra, My Way. What a great quote that is. I’ve...

“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.”

–Frank Sinatra, My Way.

What a great quote that is.

I’ve been thinking about regret lately. It all began with this touching piece by David Sedaris in The New Yorker a few weeks back. Sedaris writes movingly about a near-hook up he almost had in his early 20′s with a Lebanese guy whom he met on a train in Italy. Although the guy invites Sedaris to get off the train and join him, Sedaris passes on the opportunity. But he still thinks about that guy – and what might have been – all these years later. The essay is a giant homage to that great question of adulthood: What if?

The Road not Taken is also the subject of Mamma Mia, which – for my sins – I watched with my kids last weekend at their behest. (I fully own up to my abiding love of musical theatre, but even I balk at Abba.)

Mamma Mia – and I’m not spoiling anything here – is about a young woman on the brink of getting married who doesn’t know who her father is. So (unbeknown to her mother) she invites the three likely candidates to her wedding. Passion, longing, anger, resentment (and far too many Abba songs) ensue. The movie is all-out camp, but nestled within all the cheese are a few touching moments that actually work (Meryl Streep singing The Winner Takes It All to a love-struck Pierce Brosnan was my own personal favorite).

What Sedaris’ essay and Mamma Mia have in common is wistfulness, which is a huge part of adulthood. In Sedaris’ case, it’s not that he regrets whom he ended up with. (He makes a subtle nod to his long-time partner, Hugh, at the end of the essay.) It’s just that he’s wondering if -  in turning down that handsome Lebanese guy all those many years ago – he missed the boat. Not necessarily the boat, but a boat nonetheless. And in so doing, he articulates that great fear of adulthood:  which is that once we make a choice, everything else becomes path dependent.  Which in turn forces us to come to grips with the fact that we may never go round again.

This can be a fear about your personal life, as it was in these two instances. But it’s also a fear that we bring to career choices and to where we live and to the schools we attend (or don’t). What I find moving about wistfulness is that you can’t really escape it. You need to just live with it and perhaps, even, embrace it by – say – writing a short story in the New Yorker.

On a lighter note, midway through the movie – which is shot on the Greek islands – I commented that I’d like to go to Greece. To which my daughter replied: “OK, but let’s not go to Latin.” No, indeed. Let’s not.

Please tell me that you, too, are now singing “The Winner Takes It All”…

*****

Speaking of musical theatre, is anyone else as excited as I am that they’re making a movie about the making of A Chorus Line? OK, anyone who isn’t my sister?

Image: Two Roads Diverged in a Non-Yellow Wood by Msmail via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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  1. Lori May 1, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    Yes, I’m excited about the Chorus Line movie too.
    I haven’t seen Mama Mia yet, but I have always liked Abba songs and I love musical theatre. I do plan to see it when I get a chance.
    And I am clearly avoiding getting to the point, which is, that this blog entry really scares me. This is something that I often try to think about – all the ‘what-ifs’ – but then I must back away from these thoughts for fear that they will shatter everything. You really articulated the big Fear in my life.
    I’m glad I found your blog. I’m bookmarking it and I will return when I have more time. Thanks!

  2. delialloyd May 2, 2009 at 7:05 am #

    Thanks for stopping by, Lori. I hope to see you again!

  3. Rachel May 2, 2009 at 11:25 am #

    Look, if your kids are requesting to watch movie musicals with you (even Abba) how many regrets can you have about your parenting choices?!

  4. danthelawyer May 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    Who doesn’t like ABBA, anyway? But watching Brosnan writhe in pain while he tried to sing was, itself, painful. Christine Baranski, on the other hand, has still got it at the age of 57!

    On the topic of regrets, see the “Regret Index,” sponsored by my favorite webcomic: http://www.qwantz.com/regret/.

  5. delialloyd May 3, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    Dan — this is amazing! Thanks for sharing. Must include a link in my next post!

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