There's a grief that can't be spoken,
there's a pain goes on and on
In Claude-Michel Schönberg's musical Les Misérables, Emtpy chairs at empty tables is a scene sung by Marius in soliloquy.
After the events of the failed revolution (itself inspired on the Paris Uprising of 1832), Marius sits alone and wounded, but alive. He reflects on the price his failed attempt has cost him, mostly measured in lives taken from young men of good will. Why, Marius asks the void, is he alive while his friends are not? In the end, what purpose did their 'revolution' serve? Was it worth it at all?
While the exact details of the scene vary by production, I wish to talk about the last time I saw this musical, in September 2018. The production crew decided that, since they were already taking minor risks using small sparklers during the fight scenes, they could very well take some risks with regular candles. So, instead of the ABC café, they take Marius to the graveyard where he sings while the women (who we just saw in 'Turning') carry votive candles to mourn the departed. The entire set is illuminated with said candles which gives this particular setting an eerie feeling that other productions never had. It also reinforced the idea of people actually dying and leaving this world behind, much to Marius' despair.
Often in the past I've used this song to reflect on my own life. I've found it interesting to see myself as the 'survivor' of my own life, be it for good or bad. The more I age, the more I've come to see that my losses fat outnumber my wins, even though the latter have a greater overall weight in my present. I live my life predominantly in the past and believe me, it's not something I'm proud of; I'm taking steps towards reversing the trend. One of the only advantages of such life, if one can call it 'advantage' is to have a strong(er) sense of the foundation upon which I'm standing here today. It's not perfect, but every day I can better look at the past versions of myself. To those old friends of mine I can only say:
Oh my friends, my friends don't ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friend will sing no more.
Pretty much every major character in Les Misérables has their own solo. For the other ones, see: