Sara Bareilles’ musical “Waitress” is beautiful storytelling, with its story adapted from the 2007 award-winning Indie Film. The musical centralizes on a waitress who plans to leave her abusive husband but finds herself pregnant with his child in the planning process. With an innate talent for conceptualizing and baking beloved pies for her patrons, her identity lies sandwiched between her impressive pastry skills and the cowardly use of a man who can’t love.
The song “She Used to Be Mine” is the musical’s ballad baked into a melodic pie of brutal self-reflection. Whether you have seen the movie or listened to the tracks released on Bareilles’ new album, “She Used to Be Mine” attempts to pry open that emotional coffin you buried a piece of your soul in.
“She is broken and won’t ask for help”
Brokenness is something we can all relate to because, well, we are all broken. Jenna, the main character, sings about her unwillingness to seek help within the shattered confines of her marriage. I’ve always had trouble understanding why some people stay in abusive relationships until I looked at my self-pity. I can be tough on myself, especially when I fall into the common misbehaviors of my damaged character. I repeat mistakes, often wondering if I’ll ever learn from them. My brokenness is rooted in fear, and I am willing to bet that much of your brokenness is rooted in the same; fear of facing your past, fear of change, fear of responsibility, fear of your thoughts, fear of pain, fear of being alone, fear of losing someone, fear of losing yourself, fear of being loved and not being loved and so on.
Jenna is afraid for the entirety of the story. She is scared of never being loved and truly loving in return; true love, not feared love, is coerced by her egotistical husband. That fear began when she lost her mother, a woman who showed her that baking could be as artistically enriching to taste as the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is to perceive.
A tragedy is difficult to recover from once it sinks its roots into the heart with unpronounced emotional numbness. Once you are numb, it’s easy to stay in an abusive relationship. One is convinced that it is better not to feel anything than to face the grieving process’s internal combustion.
Jenna sings, “Most days, I don’t recognize me.” She is holding on to her brokenness by dwelling on a past identity. We are not always the best version of ourselves in our fondest memories, and sometimes those admirable traits will alter. While our core identity remains intact, the surrounding elements will shift. Trying to get back to a single time in our past doesn’t leave room for the necessary transformation of our heart’s authentic self. But as Jenna discovers at the end of the play, “Everything Changes,” including those traits that made up the identity she once desired.
Life is Alive
“Sometimes life just slips in through a back door and carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true.”
Wow, how brutally honest is this lyric? When looking back on my life, I can say there have been times when life carved out a false identity and convinced me it’s who I was. Without self-confidence, I believed that the repeated opinions of others were who I was. This lyric is all about taking control of life before it takes control of you. Life, of course, is alive, and it’s a garden waiting to be pruned or else prepared to grow wild wherever it likes.
When I was ten years old, my friends Michael and Matt had a picnic table in their backyard. One day they were playing on it (or something), and it broke. Rather than fess up, they blamed it on me, and I wasn’t even there! That did not stop their mom from forcing a false confession out of me. She sat me down in her kitchen and told me that I needed to admit what I did or never be able to play with my friends again. She promised there wouldn’t be any repercussions if I just admitted it. It would have been nice if Mike and Matt had given me a heads up about this, but they didn’t.
So instead of embracing an identity of honesty and self-worth, I admitted to a crime I never committed so that I would not lose my friends. She convinced me to admit to something that was not true, and it was rooted in my identity. I started having a fear of authority from that point on. This experience is an example of how “sometimes life just slips in through the back door and carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true.”
Even at a young age, even when we may think it doesn’t matter, one cannot forfeit their identity even at the loss of friends. The outcome is immense as one develops their character.
The Back to the Future Syndrome
“If I’m honest, I know I would give it all back for a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two.”
I find myself thinking of times in my past that I would like to go back to and relive with my current knowledge. I want to prevent myself from making irrational choices in desperation of avoiding the pain of emotional consequences. I know, however, that because of former bad decisions, I have achieved a much more valued character. I also know that I have become a better version of myself because I persevered through those challenges. I am a better person because of those mistakes. Yet, I still won’t hesitate to travel back in time like Marty McFly and change my past even if it affects my future. That’s what I call B.F.S. or Back to the Future Syndrome. The goodness in our lives is forever shadowed by the dark scars of our past.
This song is Jenna’s B.F.S. moment. She cannot see the goodness residing inside her because she is consumed by thoughts of a “girl she once knew.” This is a plea for identity, an S.O.S. to the inner life, brought about by the unseen life force within her. We all have a life force that we have abandoned and are searching for again.
Jenna’s life force is her unborn child, motivating her to become stronger. Your life force may be an untapped talent, your passion for justice, or the yearning for unconditional love, and life forces are transformation makers.
Jenna accepts that her old self is gone, and a new identity outshines the old. Her transition from a motherless child to the mother of a child changes everything. Mother is who she is and how she now thrives as she sings to her newborn in the final song of the musical, “And who I was has disappeared, it doesn’t matter now, you’re here, so innocent…And I swear I’ll remember to say we were both born today.”
She Used to be Mine is a song that wants Jenna to cling to the past, but the following song, “Everything Changes,” prepares her for the new future, one that transcends her past self. Think of a snake; it cannot fit into its old skin once it’s shed. As Jesus put it, you cannot place new wine into old wineskins. You cannot cling to an identity you no longer have but must seek the transformative life force within.
“She Used to Be Mine” is an honest self-reflection song. It reminds us that who we are is shaped by the events that happened to us, but they are not what defines us. Your brand needs an inciting incident, a catalyst, to establish a deep form of self-awareness and inspire the company, or change leader you can potentially become.