By Gloria Mann
I have faith in nights.Rainer Maria Rilke
The first time that I remember truly listening and hearing from deep within my soul was when my high school drama teacher played a recording of the classic film Cyrano de Bergerac, starring the great classical actor Jose Ferrer, and based on the romantic play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. My teacher darkened the theatre, walked out and left the class with the lyrical strains of Rostand’s language and Cyrano’s poetry floating in the air. The ears of my soul were opened. I felt for the first time that I had heard pure language and understood my own humanity. I knew then that I wanted to be an actor, but most importantly, it was the introduction to my true self.
Cyrano is a nobleman serving in the 17th century French Army. A skilled swordsman and fearless soldier, he is also highly educated and a gifted poet. However, he has a very large nose, which has caused others to laugh behind his back. While he presents a brash, extravagant face to the world, insecurity about his deformity prevents him from expressing his love to the beautiful and intelligent Roxane.
Roxane is instead in love with another soldier, the handsome Christian, who is also in love with her. But while decent and brave, Christian is completely inarticulate around women. He cannot speak or even write to women without making a fool of himself. Bearing his heart to Cyrano, Christian explains that he loves Roxane but is unable to communicate with her. He has no idea that Cyrano also loves Roxane. Cyrano proposes that Christian borrow his wit and that together they will woo Roxane for him. Christian agrees and Cyrano begins writing love letters to Roxane in Christian’s name, pouring his unfulfilled longing and deepest love into them.
Touched by the poetry of the soulful letters, Roxane summons Christian to her home one night. Heartened by the summons, he tells Cyrano that he no longer needs his wit as Roxane has now been won over. But attempting to woo her in person, the inarticulate Christian fails miserably and implores Cyrano for help. Hidden in the shadows beneath Roxane’s balcony, Cyrano first prompts Christian on what to say, and then still cloaked in darkness finally speaks out in his own voice, pretending to be the other man. Under the persona of Christian, the darkness is the only place from which Cyrano is able to fully express his true feelings.
ROXANE: You’ve a quite different voice, indeed, that’s true.
CYRANO: Yes different, for protected by the night I dare to be myself at last, I dare…
Roxane is deeply moved and does not realize that it was Cyrano’s words and soul that she really loves. She marries Christian that night, but before their marriage can be consummated, both he and Cyrano are sent away to war with Spain. The French army is later besieged, and the French defenders are starving. Despite the siege, Cyrano continues writing letters to Roxane in Christian’s name twice a day, risking his life to smuggle letters across enemy lines. Cyrano even provides Christian a final letter to give to Roxane in case he is killed. This final letter is stained with the tears of Cyrano’s hopeless longing for Roxane.
Roxane herself crosses the lines to find Christian. She tells him that through his letters she has grown to love him for his soul alone, and “would love him even if he were ugly.” Christian is then killed in battle, but Roxane finds the final letter on his body. In mourning, she retreats from the world into a convent where she keeps Christian’s final letter always folded in a locket over her heart.
After the war, Cyrano continues to visit Roxane as a friend but faithful to Christian’s memory, keeps secret the truth of the letters. On Cyrano’s last visit to Roxane, he is attacked in the street and mortally wounded. Making his way to the convent garden, the dying Cyrano asks Roxane if he could read Christian’s farewell letter. As he reads it aloud, it grows too dark to see but he recites the full letter anyway.
Listening to his voice in the dark, Roxane realizes that it was Cyrano who she truly loved all along. With his last dying breath, he continues to deny it.
ROXANE: . . . . How can you read now? Night has fallen. Was this, for fourteen years, the role he was playing: of the kind old friend, here merely to be amusing?
CYRANO: No, Roxane, no!
ROXANE: I should have guessed it when he said my name!
CYRANO: No! It was not me!
ROXANE: It was YOU!
CYRANO: Roxane, I swear!
ROXANE: I see through the whole generous affair: The letters: that was you!
ROXANE: The sweet, mad words, too, that was you!
ROXANE: The voice in the night: that was you!
CYRANO: I swear to you it was not.
ROXANE: The soul, it was yours!
Years later, while living and working as a busy single mother and actor in Los Angeles, I was recovering from a particularly painful breakup. I made a solemn pact with myself that I was finished with outer relationships and instead would focus on my relationship with myself. I was absolutely serious about this decision. In token of my new commitment I even bought myself a ring. The ring itself was beautiful, set with the princess-cut diamonds that I loved, but it was the intention to be true to myself that held the greater significance.
I also decided to leave Los Angeles. I had an acting job waiting for me in New York City, a place I have always loved and felt at home. However a friend told me about a beautiful, nonprofit spiritual center in the rural Hudson Valley called the Omega Institute, where she’d volunteered as a staff person for a season the year before. I decided to volunteer as a staff person for the summer before heading on to Manhattan. As I’d been trained as a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, they hired me as the executive sous chef. The resident community, with hundreds of people living there and hundreds of workshops and retreats per season, was diverse and vibrant. I kept to myself and focused on my work.
One evening I was invited to a party after work and on a whim decided to go. It was held in a rustic cabin and many people showed up. Then a thunderstorm caused a power failure and candles were lit. Later, with the power still off, I found myself sitting in a corner of a crowded room in which all the candles had gone out. I struck up a conversation with an unseen someone sitting next to me. We could not see each other and did not know with whom we were speaking. But we responded to one another and the conversation went deeper and deeper. The truth that I heard in that voice, and the sense of connection with someone completely unseen, changed my life. I heard and realized then what Roxane had heard in Cyrano’s voice that night under her balcony – his soul.
CYRANO: Wait a moment so that we can profit from this chance we’re offered …for speaking sweetly together, without seeing.
ROXANE: Without seeing?
CYRANO: Yes, it’s delightful! The eye scarce distinguishes.
You see the folds of a long cloak of darkness, I view the whiteness of a summer dress:
I, I’m but a shadow, and you a brightness!
You don’t know what these moments are to me! If I was ever eloquent…
ROXANE: You are, indeed!
CYRANO: Language has never launched itself till now from my heart, so truly…
CYRANO: Because till now… I spoke with…
CYRANO: ….the dizziness where trembles whatever haunts your eyes!…But the night resembles…
a darkened stage where, this first time, I address you.
I fell in love in that conversation in the dark. My then-to-be husband Michael was also listening, just as deeply, and he too fell in love in that moment. This experience became a foundation for our marriage and we have just celebrated our 14-year anniversary. We refer to what we experienced that night as, “Listening for your Soul Mate,” or Beshert, which is the Jewish concept of a destined soulmate. The word, “Bashert,” literally means your “predestined spouse.”
Many of us long for our soul mate. According to a poll held by Sparks Networks, Inc. the owner-operator of JDate, 46% of singles believe that there is one special person in the universe who is meant for them. This conviction is very deep and speaks to the longing of our soul for union and wholeness. But can we find this person without listening?
Our world seems to be full of people demanding to be heard, yet distracted by the pace of things, very few of us are really listening. Instead of listening for the soul in another’s voice, we view images on dating sites online and imagine that we will find love this way. It is as if all the real romance is going out of the world. Most people in life long to find true love. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for love that I was able to hear love.
Deep listening is transcendent. Just recall the times when someone truly listened to you, and how it felt to be heard and understood. The experience is so rare that you might find yourself saying, “My God, someone heard me; someone understands me!” Listening is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to another, or to yourself.