The story of Romeo and Juliet is inescapable. The torturous popcorn readings, the stomach-churning Socratic seminars, the cringe-inducing alternating voices that various kids in your class will use when portraying Juliet because, well, that’s their humor. It’s all inevitable. Shakespeare speaks of youthful love like a summer’s day, and we begrudgingly turn page after page in the middle of a classroom, suffocating beneath a January winter. This is how we’re supposed to live out our teenage days - passionate, curious, ever-romantic. Dramatic monologues and professions of love at the turn of every corner, and love as tragic as it is beguiling. But outside, the girls are curt. The boys don’t want to dance. Messages go unanswered, holidays uncelebrated, crushes unfulfilled. Romeo and Juliet seem to mock us and all that we don’t have. Love, wild and flaming love. Love that burns our hands.
Shakespeare unearths something in us. He is not something to be understood or analyzed, but something to be felt, and stories aren’t told for the sake of seeing themselves unfold.
In that high school classroom, we think, maybe, amidst all the noise, there is something to be heard.
Romeo and Juliet, both inevitably and tragically, die. That balcony in Verona comes to a crumbling end. But inside us, something disgusting and turmoil-inducing begins to rise.
This, like many other things, is hunger. We are hungry for that life we have been promised. Remember that one of high school romancing and first dates? That one of Polaroid-esque friend groups and indie haircuts? That one monumentalized in your parent’s yearbooks? Where is the girl on the beach’s shore asking for your number? Where is that guy you wanted to give you flowers? When will your soulmate turn the corner and show their face?
When will you live up to the world’s standards? Who set these standards, anyway? Why aren’t you living up to the standards? Aren’t these standards just stupid, so stupid? Where’s your bouquet of roses?!? Why can’t you meet the standards?!
We are left searching and searching for the love we see in others. Their love, we think, manifests in all the right ways. The love that surrounds ourselves, however, is not worth mentioning. We want more and more and more, want Valentine’s Day gifts and someone to hold our hands. Then, we want gold necklaces and dinner dates. The awful thing about hunger for love is that it’s never satiated - and this is so extravagantly counterproductive because love is all about feeling full, and how will you ever be full if you’re always hungry? Never mind what we have; we want savory and bittersweet, spicy with a hint of acidity, something raw and fresh, newly harvested, never before tasted, sickeningly sweet. We want the things nobody has ever sampled. We want to gorge ourselves on the love in the places we never felt love could be.
This love is a race. We want to win. I fear we will always want to win.
But there is another love. The quiet love in the sunsets. The wading love in a river’s water. The gentle love in making the bed and tucking in the corners of your sheets. This is the love we walk past every day on the streets. This is the love that does not disappear, even when we forget to say hello. Why not yearn for this love? The love that will never leave. The love that is life itself.
There is no wrong in passion. Passion drives us and sustains us. Passion moves us. Passion brings us to the precipice of risk-taking and reward-accepting. Passion makes life, life.
But often, I wonder - had Romeo and Juliet felt less of that threatening passionate burn, had they stopped and thought, had they sustained themselves on mellowing moments of love for just a few years - would they be together, still, sitting on that balcony in Verona?