Thursday, June 12, 2008

My new milk cow

In one of my favorite scenes of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye is obliged to visit Lazar Wolf. Tevye assumes that Lazar Wolf is going to ask him to sell him his new milk cow. We the audience know that Lazar is really after Tevye’s daughter. It makes for a hilarious scene.


I suppose you know why I wanted to see you.

Oh, yes, I do. But there is no use talking about it.

Tevye, I understand how you feel. But after all, you have a few more without her.

Ah, I see. Today you want one. Tomorrow you may want two.

Two? What would I do with two?

The same as you do with one.

Tevye. This is very important to me.

Why is it so important to you?

Frankly, because I'm lonely.

Lonely? Reb Lazar, what are you talking about? How can a little cow keep you company?

Little cow? Is that what you call her?

But that's what she is!

What are you talking about?

Don't you know?

Of course I know! We are talking about my new milk cow. The one you want to buy from me.

A milk cow! A milk cow so I won't be lonely? I'm talking about your daughter. Your daughter Tzeitel.
It’s hilarious in the scene. I’d like to hope that there exists a perspective that makes the similar misunderstandings we encounter in life funny as well. There are times I have stood back and watched competing sides fight each other down without realizing they are talking about two different subjects. There are times when I have hurt and been hurt, and discovered months later that I and the person in question were talking about different things.

I used to think that the way around that problem was to keep a balanced perspective. But maybe, since our perspective is always more tilted than we realize, we are in a more detrimental position when we imagine we are searching for balance. Maybe, as a humorous anecdote from French class once indicated, the only viable approach to the situation is to expect it, admitting that our own perspective and judgment may be faulty. (Speaking of French class, La Rochefoucauld could contribute his delightful cynicism to this discussion: “Everyone complains of his memory; no one complains of his judgment.”) If we expect these sorts of misunderstandings, the only appropriate reaction to our frustration in the middle of them is grace.

Grace… and, as Fiddler on the Roof may suggest, a good hearty laugh afterwards.

1 comment:

Clifford said...

This is my favorite post so far.