The Secret Garden re-told on stage as a musical. It works. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society production of this musical transported me to India, the old Craven house on the Yorkshire moors, and that garden. Also into the world of spirits, as the ghosts of Mary's family and carers and of Archibald Craven's wife Lily haunt the stage and the characters, taking us sometimes back in time to the early chapters of the characters' stories, and sometimes deep into the despair of grief.
We seemed to be invited to view the spirits or ghosts as 'haunting', a negative lingering after death because their loved ones will not 'let go'.
But as I was reflecting on this story, I remembered my reading group that had met the previous day, where we heard of a book on grief whose author challenges the notion of 'letting go' of our loved ones who have died. Instead, she suggests that we might be more helpfully helped into healing by reintegrating our loved ones into our lives, getting to know them as dead.
Then I came back to reflect on The Secret Garden's ghosts, and although she disappears in the end, the most prominent ghost, Lily, could be seen to be reintegrated into Archie's life more healthily than in his regret-filled longing for her to be alive again.
As Lily helps him to shift his gaze from the empty space in his life that she once filled to the space filled with light and love by his son and his niece, Archie seems to get to know his wife as dead, as present in his heart, which helps him to 'let go' of his longing for her to be present physically again, and he is at last set free from denial and regret, set free to live again.
For it is not the ghosts or the spirits of those who have died who need to be set free - it is those who are left behind. The regret-filled longing for the return of those who cannot be physically present wraps chains around us, restricting our ability to live and love. We ourselves are then unable to be fully present in the world and in relationships. We become lost, somehow die while yet alive.
But f we can come to terms with the loss of their physical presence, and find them present with us in our hearts and our memories, our loved ones will never really be gone, and neither will we.
As the story of The Secret Garden shows, it is those who are alive with us - like Dicken and Martha for Mary, Mary and Colin for Archie - who bring us back if we get lost, who help us to see and to find the freedom to keep living. (And while I'm on the subject, the actors who played Dicken, Martha, Archie and his brother were captivating in their embodying of these characters - sublime artistry, sublime and superb).
This production of a well-loved story brought it to life in a new way, and reminded me of the beauty and the mystery of life.