Annie and Macbeth

By: Lindsay Lawley Rerecich

Leon mentioned Hamlet in his sermon last Sunday, but when I think of Shakespeare, my mind usually goes to Macbeth. Neither of these tragedies is my favorite among Shakespeare’s works, but I think I had to memorize a speech from Macbeth when I was in high school, and most of it is still firmly lodged in my brain:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
(Macbeth 5.5)

That’s a real pick-me-up, isn’t it? Granted, it’s beautifully wrought poetry, and granted, Macbeth, having recently committed regicide and usurped the throne, has ample reason to feel low, but still. Ouch.

Before I had to memorize these lines, I had a different association for “tomorrow” from the musical Annie. We had a version on VHS that I watched many times (it had Tim Curry as a bad guy), and at one point, the title character ends up in FDR’s office (I can’t remember why) and breaks into song with:
The sun’ll come out
So ya gotta hang on
‘Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow, tomorrow!
I love ya tomorrow!
You’re always
A day away!

For many years now, I’ve thought it would be hilarious if there were a town somewhere running both of these plays at once, and one random night, Annie and Macbeth switched places for these scenes, so that some serious, Shakespearean leading man stepped out into the battlements of Dunsinane and sang “Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow!” while a bright-eyed, curly-haired little girl walked seriously up to FDR and said “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day… out, out brief candle!” The dissonance makes me laugh.

And to be honest, I need to laugh right now. Even in normal times, I’m not an optimist like Annie, and these are not normal times. This is not going to be an essay that tells you, “When you are isolating at home, trying to juggle work and childcare and family dynamics, and missing your usual support network and coping mechanisms and looking to the future with anxiety and confusion: be Annie, not Macbeth!” I’m feeling a lot more Macbeth. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” has never felt quite so relatable as it does now that every day feels so much the same. I’m losing track of my usual markers of time, and the horizon at which things will feel safe or normal again is constantly receding.

In circumstances like this, the best wisdom I know is not to dwell too much upon tomorrow at all. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). I don’t think that is an exhortation not to plan or not to prepare—Jesus is big on preparation elsewhere, certainly. Rather, it is an exhortation not to fixate—not to ruminate—not to panic. Get through each day one at a time.

Neither Annie nor Macbeth get this. Macbeth is so depressed about what tomorrow may bring that he wants to snuff out the candle of today as well. Annie, on the other hand, is so confident that everything will be better tomorrow that she doesn’t address that today might very well matter in that outcome. Translating that to my life right now, on one hand, when the family tempers start rising in isolation frustration, I don’t need to exacerbate my frustration by thinking “and it’ll be the same tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that!” The future should not be a burden that makes today worse. On the other, when I sit down to plan out homebound activities, I shouldn’t just chuck my notebook out the window and say, “It’ll all be better tomorrow!” The future should not be an excuse to avoid doing what is necessary now.

Instead, I need to deal with today: today’s tempers, today’s actions, today’s anxieties, today’s joys. Today and today and today. No more, no less.

P.S. For additional ridiculous humor, you can read the title of the essay, “Annie and Macbeth,” to the tune of “Bennie and the Jets.”