Richard Wagner wrote an opera for his German audience over 150 years ago whose message we should incorporate into our lives today. His Teutonic tale, "The Flying Dutchman", is a marvelous opera with the backdrop of storms, lightning, and thunder. Tragically, we can get so caught up in the sounds and fury of his opera that we miss its meaning.
The curtain rises and the audience is transported to a place just off the Norwegian coast and in the immediate aftermath of a great North Sea storm. The blood-red sail of a ship on the horizon announces the arrival of the ill-fated "Flying Dutchman". The ship and her Dutch captain, Vanderdecken, are about to dock for the first time in seven years. The captain has been given a year's reprieve from constantly sailing the Seven Seas.
Many years before Vanderdecken attempted to sail around the Cape of Good Hope when another massive storm befell him. So devastating was the storm that he was unable to complete his journey. The distraught Dutch captain swore that he would sail around the cape even if it took forever. Unfortunately, Satan overheard his boasting and doomed him for all eternity to precisely that-sailing forever. However, within this curse there was also mercy for the hapless Vanderdecken. Every seven years, Satan would allow him to go ashore and search for a woman who would love him. If he was able to find such a woman, he would be released from his incessant sailing of the lonely seas.
In the wake of the storm off the coast of Norway, our Dutch captain made his way to shore for his septennial quest when he met another captain by the name of Daland who lived nearby. Vanderdecken asked for shelter and was willing to pay most generously for lodging. The Dutch captain possessed much unusable wealth from his years of sailing. Vanderdecken also told Daland about his curse to which Daland not only provided a place to stay but also offered his unmarried daughter to the Dutchman.
Daland's daughter, Senta, had often dreamt that she would meet a sailor like Vanderdecken, and they soon fell in love. However, doubts haunted Vanderdecken. He could never be sure that Senta loved him or his wealth. The Dutchman knew that if she didn't truly love him, Satan would not free him from the curse. As the end of the opera nears, Vanderdecken returns to his ship in despair assuming that, at least for another seven years, his bondage to Satan's curse would continue. He just could not trust Senta's profession of love.
As Vanderdecken and the crew of the "Flying Dutchman" readied themselves for setting sail, Senta realized that he was going to leave. Contrary to what the Dutchman believed, she truly did love him. As the Dutchman set sail amid another terrible storm, Senta ran to the cliff nearby where she jumped into the water for she couldn't face life without the Dutch captain. At precisely the same time, the "Flying Dutchman" sailed passed that cliff. The violent storm wrecked the ship, and it sank. Within a matter of moments, the churning brine swallowed up the ship, the crew, and the captain along with the drowning Senta. The opera ends with a miraculous resurrection of the Dutchman and his love, Senta. They emerge out of the foaming waters entwined in each other's arms. The Dutchman finally found true love and a release from the bondage of aimless wandering through life and eternity.
Sometimes in our own lives, we need to give of ourselves to another so that the other can be freed from doubts and despair. Senta's life without Vanderdecken would have been without meaning. It would have been as meaningless as his life as an incessant sailor. Senta's sacrifice freed Vanderdecken from his doubts about her love for him. Even more importantly, her act of love for him broke the bondage to a meaningless life.
While the intensity of Senta's experience occurs only rarely, we would be well advised not to write it off as just another hyper-dramatic Wagnerian opera. In less dramatic ways, our lives are full of events in which we can either give or receive redemption and new life by loving or being loved. You may be the giver or the receiver, but be open to both. Freedom from the bondage of meaningless wandering will be the result.