Dear Evan Hansen Addresses Our Culture’s Pervasive Loneliness
One of the hottest plays on Broadway right now is Dear Evan Hansen, a story of a teenage boy trying to live through and clean up a web of lies. More than that, Dear Evan Hansen is a story about loneliness. It depicts several people who feel alone and just want to be accepted and loved.
Evan Hansen is struggling high schooler; he isn’t popular and doesn’t have many friends. He has a crush on Zoe, the sister of the school bad boy, Connor. Connor commits suicide after discovering a note Evan wrote to himself in which he proclaims his love for Zoe. When the note is found on him, it is assumed that he wrote it to Evan and that they were close friends. Evan becomes incredibly popular, gets close to Zoe, starts a foundation in Connor’s memory, and leans deeper and deeper into the lie. Eventually it all comes crashing down, as Evan is discovered to be a fraud.
We all need people to go deep with. We need people we can feel connected to—people we can love and who will love us back.We all can relate to this story. Theologian and pastor Tim Keller has said we all desire to be fully known and fully loved. Marvel character Frank Castle from the Punisher says, “We’re all lonely, all life is, is trying not to be.” Loneliness is innate to the human experience. And in the play, Evan asks the question: “Will anyone notice if I disappear?” This question lies at the heart of some of our greatest fears.
We All Feel Lonely
The relatableness of this is that we have all felt alone at some point. Many people walk through life feeling misunderstood, like they don’t have a place to fit in. Many of us have changed core things about ourselves out of a desire to be accepted. We’ve feigned interest, picked up new hobbies, and frequented new venues, just to belong.
Everyone feels lonely. This is a theme we see throughout Dear Evan Hansen. Evan felt it. Jared felt it. Connor felt it. Alana echoes Evan’s words from the earlier in the show back to him: “I know what it’s like to be alone, to wonder if anyone will notice if you disappeared.” In some form or fashion, we have all been there.
Loneliness can drive us mad and leave us longing for a cure. Evan thought he would find the cure in all of the love he received after Connor’s death, but it didn’t work because this love was built on a lie. People believed something about him that wasn’t true, and he had to jump through hoops to maintain the perception that he was Connor’s best friend and they had a deep, meaningful relationship. Many of us have been there too, pretending to be something we are not to fit in a place we so desperately want to be.
God’s Solution: Community
All of this goes back to our desire for community. In the garden, God said about Adam, it is not good for man to be alone. This wasn’t just about marriage; this was about the need we all have for other people. When we are alone, we get lost in our thoughts, our problems magnify in scope, and we often just miss being with other people.
In an attempt to deal with loneliness many of us will turn to false comforts. When longing for the touch of another person, some turn to porn instead, hoping that will gratify the desires of our hearts. Others try to drink or smoke the pain of loneliness away only to discover it is still there when the high wears off. The most common form of coping in the digital age though, is the hours of endless scrolling we do. Looking at the lives of others wishing we were them or with them.
The desires in themselves are not bad; in fact they are good. They are desires given to us by God. He created us for one another. Community is essential to the human experience. Family, friends, the Church are all meant to be those life affirming, joy bringing, loving places we turn to for the connection we long to have.
When we turn to cheap substitutes, we typically leave feeling empty and worse than before. Evan’s budding relationship with Zoe fell apart the moment she discovered it had all been a lie. Community built on lies is full of insecurity. There is the constant wondering that you will be discovered, the fear that people will find you out. You are ultimately left feeling just as alone as when you started. Evan learned this the hard way.
Our Call: Seek Community
We all need people to go deep with. We need people we can feel connected to—people we can love and who will love us back. Evan wanted that and fell backward into it. The problem is, community built on lies is no community at all. Eventually the house of cards will fall.
Evan didn’t have to live a lonely life. In fact, if he looked around, he would have seen there were people all around just like him. Every character in this story felt the same way he did. They all felt as though they were alone at sea with no one there beside them. Had he just opened his eyes, he would have seen his people were right there.
I know these feelings. As the only black person in nearly every room I step in, life has become lonely in many places. Thankfully I have made some great friends who feel exactly what I feel. We are able to laugh together, cry together, lament together, and be extra black together. It is what we all long for: to know and be fully known.
Many of us experiencing loneliness must open our eyes. Our people are right there. The problem for many of us is that the community we have and the community we want are not always the same thing. Our desire to fit in and be loved by the cool kids or those we deem the most worthy keeps us from loving the misfits just like us. Evan had a group of perceived misfits: the nerdy girl Alana; the trying-to-be-cool Jared; his single mother. These were all people who could have been there for Evan, fully knowing him and fully loving him.
Undoubtedly we have those people in our lives as well. Don’t ignore them, embrace them. Embrace rich community with people who know and understand you well. And then find some people who aren’t quite your people, because varying perspectives are something we all need. There is a dangerous form of community that is really just tribalism. It’s the echo chamber where we surround ourselves with people who think like us, act like us, move like us. It’s the Twitter timeline where everyone agrees with you and holds your positions and anyone who doesn’t gets muted. It’s the brunch that only features characters who are generally just another version of yourself. It’s the books you read by authors who simply confirm your biases.
Everyone Feels It
No one is immune to this. Our common experience is one that should draw us together. So often we think we are the only ones feeling what we feel, but the truth is, this is more normal than we realize. The human experience is one that is shared. Community is often right in front of us. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes to see it.
Dear Evan Hansen hits home in a way not every musical can. It speaks to the universal human experience. We live in a time where people are more connected than ever and yet feel more alone than at any other point in history. We can see and read stories from around the world and yet feel like no one can see us.
In our time it is easy to live in front of a screen, scrolling endlessly through everyone else’s highlight reel while being disappointed at your behind the scenes footage. True community is going to be found when we look up to see the world around us. Find the people with whom you can love, support, and build with. Dear Evan Hansen teaches us there is no substitute for that.
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