I’VE BEEN DOING a lot of questioning lately about why we’re even here in the first place.
Who are we to each other? What’s going on?
I mean, honestly, what the hell are we even doing here? Not many people seem to know why they even want to stay alive, let alone whether or not they have some sort of purpose or whatever.
So many of us can’t wait for the day to be over; for the time to go by more quickly; for the next moment to come.
When’s the weekend going to be here? When’s summer going to get here? I can’t wait until summer (or is it fall? or winter? No, it’s spring! I can’t wait for spring to get here!!)!
What year is it, again?
“In every soul
Is the need to grow older
To speed up the passing of time.
I don’t know why
But it makes me cry.”
–Jacob Collier, “Make Me Cry”
I’ll tell you why I think we’re here.
We are here to communicate with one another. To understand that we are, in fact, already inextricably connected.
We are simply different parts of the same whole.
We’re not “like” the same; we are the same. We are different perspectives of the same experiences.
We are here to share those experiences—to literally “be” the experiences we have—with one another. Our own unique way of seeing the world is our contribution to a great depository of experiential love from which all love is drawn.
The well from which you draw the love you need to love those dearest to you is the same well from which I draw, from which your ancestors and my ancestors drew.
It doesn’t matter if we didn’t ever know it was the same well, it simply was and is and always will be the exact same well.
I believe when we die, we become entirely one with God, which means we will be entirely at one with love itself.
That means every encounter we have with love in this life—any act of kindness, compassion, understanding, anything done that produces the universally recognized and understood fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul writes about in Galatians—is an encounter we have with our loved ones, and everyone else’s loved ones, who have gone on before us to become one with love.
They are woven into the very fabric of love itself. So, when we experience love, we literally experience them.
I believe that I have been in the presence of my grandfather—all of my grandparents actually—at different times in the past few years. Especially, the past few years. I know for a fact I’ve been visited by Todd Brooks (the best man at my wedding in 1992) a few times. He died in 2013.
Did I see their ghosts? Not in the Jacob Marley sense, I don’t think. It’s always more of an ontological influencing; an intellectual nudging, if you will.
Perhaps it’s a memory? But what is a memory?
A memory is not what actually happened. We like to think it is, but a memory is our current self interpreting how we got to here-and-now, and it’s always doing that, again and again and again.
A memory is our imagination at work, attempting to reconstruct the past into a usable tool for understanding how we got to where we’ve gotten and where we might be going after this moment, and the next, and the next one after that.
I believe our imagination is the key to our connection with God and our communication with each other. That’s why artists and creative people have always been right on the pulse of it all, itching to articulate what it means to be human.
It is the Creative in each of us that is at the purpose of God.
When we are creative—in whatever way that appears in you—we are experiencing and are present to a oneness with God we don’t usually recognize; it’s always there, we just don’t always see it.
When we experience someone else’s creativity—watch a movie, read a book, see a painting, observe a beautifully cleaned home, eat an amazing meal someone has prepared, watch an athlete, etc., etc., etc.,—we are communicating with the deepest parts of that person. They are offering and we are receiving. And so it would be in reverse.
The creator, the created, and those receiving the creation form a fantastically beautiful circle of intention and meaning. When that circle forms and we are present to it, we take part in the experiential reality of God.
It happens all day every day, and you’re not even missing it.
You might not know what’s going on, but whenever you smile at someone or hold the door at Wawa for someone or check on a neighbor or tip extra well or go through a door someone else is holding for you or recognize that someone is having a bad day, or see something online that “renews your faith in humanity,” you are in the midst of experiencing God.
Who do you think you are?
Well, for starters, you are an indispensable gift to the universe.
You are irreplaceable. You are brave, resilient, and full of something so incredibly unique that only you could give it to the world.
No one else but you can do what you do. We need you, and you will never fully understand just how much.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL, by Charles Dickens, has, as it were, haunted me for almost my entire life. From as early as I can remember having memories, anyway.
I’m certain as a ten-month-old in 1969, I must have scooched too close to the television a time or two while Alastair Sim’s classic portrayal came into our living room on Christmas Eve. Baby’s first Christmas and all that.
I don’t know exactly when I became possessed by the story, but I do know I have always found it exciting, fascinating, thrilling, terrifying, and the most profound story of the experiential reality of God and the transformational power of that reality I know.
(Okay, I haven’t *always* known that last part. Or maybe I did, but didn’t know I knew it? I don’t know; I forget more than I remember, these days).
What I do know is that the story became inextricably connected to Christmas for me at a very young age and has shown up to me in different incarnations throughout my life.
In high school, Mr. Steinmetz (may I call you Ted, now? Nevermind. That seems weird, I think. I’ll stick with Mr. Steinmetz) let me be a part of the “morning announcements.”
If you went to Shawnee High School in the 1980s (the one in Medford, New Jersey. There’s more than one Shawnee High, but that’s another great story for another time!), you’ll remember those morning announcements came at you in the form of a morning *radio show* produced from the school’s main office and broadcast throughout the building via the speaker system.
We played cool music, gave the weather, did the sports, announced upcoming events, played more music. It was a really terrific thing Mr. Steinmetz (Chemistry teacher/part time DJ moonlighter) put together for the school. It made every morning so much more interesting for everyone and turned out to make a tremendously profound impact on my life.
I believe it was Christmastime in 1984 when, during the morning announcements for the last week of school before the break, Mr. Steinmetz played a radio-play version of “A Christmas Carol” from 1926, starring Basil Rathbone, over the speakers at the very end of our program, just before the first bell.
He played about five minutes of the twenty-five minute long drama each day, spread out over the five days before we would say, “See you next year!” to each other, the way young people do when they want to lean in on the literal meaning of things, even in jest.
When Mr. Steinmetz (you know what? Ted is much easier to type, so I’m just going to call him Ted. Because I’m fifty-one, and I’m lazy now. Is that okay with you, Mr. Steinmetz?), when Ted saw how taken I was with this production, he secretly dubbed me a copy of the entire performance on a cassette tape and surprised me with it on the last day before the winter recess.
That Christmas Eve, our family made an addition to our yearly, family devotional. After a reading of the Christmas story from the scriptures and the singing of carols and hymns, we would all gather around the fireplace and listen to Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge—and a supporting cast of players whose voices are etched in my heart for all time—in “A Christmas Carol.”
I carried that tradition with me when Malisa and I married, and started a family of our own. Our children were raised on the story, and the tradition of experiencing the tale grew for us as a family as we found other new adaptations and productions to hear and see.
The power of God to transform the human heart has always been the main theme of the story for me. The hope this story gives me—that every human being has the potential to be forever altered for the better because of an encounter with love itself—has remained with me for all of these years, despite my many self-destructive actions which now seem like attempts on my part to prove that very hope to be an entirely false proposition.
In the early 2000s, I went online and found a copy of the cutting Charles Dickens himself used when he would read the story to live audiences, both in England and on at least two tours of the United States.
People lined up around the block to buy tickets to hear Dickens read this tale. It was like trying to get tickets to see “Hamilton” today—lotteries, long waits, performances sold out months in advance, women hitting each other with their purses, that kind of thing.
I took Dickens’ cutting and adapted it into a one-person play, and have now performed it dozens of times. In 2013, I even made an audiobook version (more on that soon!)
Actively participating in this story in some fashion every year—either as a performer or as a spectator—always forces me to realign my mind and heart with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I experience when I am made to realize that God is not done with me yet.
And if God is not finished with me, then God is not finished with you, either. Or your family, or your friends, or your acquaintances, or your enemies.
Everyone is deserving of grace, no matter where they are in the world, and there are forces beyond ourselves actively working to help us realize this every minute of every day.
There’s this woman I know. I’ll call her Rochelle Scudder. We’ve been friends for a few years now, and I just think she’s a super person.
The other day, she made a post on Facebook that started out with some version of, “If you believe such and such…” and I thought for sure was going to end with the “then un-friend me now” conclusion that’s been in fashion for some time now.
I had worked myself up to be saddened and discouraged because those kinds of posts sadden and discourage me. But then, a small miracle happened.
(Btw, I’m calling it a small miracle because that’s what it was to me, and everyone gets to decide what a miracle is to them. That’s how miracles work. Try declaring a few things miracles today. You’ll like it, I think.)
Instead of, “then un-friend me now” she wrote, “Please don’t unfriend me now…[instead] let’s have a respectful, one on one conversation about it.”
That was not at all what I expected, and I instantly got misty-eyed, which made it very difficult to write a comment on the post and drive at the same time.
(That’s absolutely not what happened, at all. I had the cruise control on, so I was fine.)
Rochelle’s post gave me hope. I had been getting so discouraged by what we’ve all been seeing around the country. The division is real and can often seem like too great a chasm between two sides that couldn’t possibly be brought together, no matter how hard we might try.
Even though this division is real and cannot (must not) be denied, it is not the only way of the world. There is an undeniable force at play in the world right now, working desperately to show us that grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are the only answers to our fear and pain and sadness and feelings of lack.
I texted my friend Rochelle mere moments after I had had this encounter with her beautiful attitude and efforts toward seeking first to understand. Her heart came shining through in that post and cast a light of hope onto my heart which had been temporarily hidden in the shadow of doubt.
I told her she had been God to me in that moment, and I was grateful to know her. It takes courage to say no to fear and misunderstanding, and shine a light of hope to the world.
We are not *like* God’s face to the world, to the *other,* whoever they might be.
We ARE God’s face to the world.
You are the ONLY manifestation of God that will ever exist in the particular way that is you. God literally experiences the world uniquely through you and through me, and through your family and your friends and your acquaintances and your enemies.
All God wants is for your will and the will of God (Love) to be one. Well, the fact is, they already are one. God just wants us to continually rediscover that fact and to trust it, to hope in it.
When someone else can bring an awareness to you of the eternal, everlasting presence of the experiential reality that is God, they are actively performing the role of God to you. Literally.
The way God “shows” God’s-self to us is by having others do actions that move us toward grace and forgiveness and love instead of fear and selfishness and cancelation.
All the while, God is prompting us to pay attention to those moments as they are happening, and they are happening all the time, everywhere.
The story of “A Christmas Carol” is a reminder to me that the Holy Spirit is constantly moving. She is constantly doing the work of showing me that I am worth the trouble, that transformation is not only possible but is at the heart of God’s continuous work in the world.
You are worth every effort, dear friend! Please, know this!
Look around at others and see how they are God to you. Pay attention and use your imagination. You’ll see it.
It won’t take long before you witness an act of loving-kindness between strangers, experience a piece of art that shakes you up, or read a Facebook post from someone you hold dear you that leads you to suddenly realize you’ve been having an encounter with God all along – that your entire life is one perpetual encounter with God.
Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, referencing his love of Christmas, speaks about it this way:
“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come around, as a good time—a kind forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. The only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow travelers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
My “Fellow Travelers,” your presence is valuable in so many ways you cannot even imagine. That nudge inside you to choose love instead of hate, to think of others before yourself, to offer grace to someone when you want to *cancel* them, is from the very heart God.
And God has chosen to wear God’s heart on your sleeve and mine.
THEY SAY the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It’s an age-old adage, and I’ve heard it since I was quite young.
I’ve understood it as a warning to not covet what others have, and I’ve done a pretty decent job living that way, I think.
What I have failed to do until recently, though, is dig a little deeper into what it truly means.
Many might be moved to comment something like, “You need to learn how to love what you have, and be grateful for what God has given you.”
And while I think those are true sentiments and make a great deal of sense, it’s not always quite that simple. I believe that a fascination with a neighbor’s grass says less about the grass and more about one’s feelings of lack in life.
Sometime not too long after we’re born, we experience a *second birth*. This second birth is our initial awareness that we are individuals, separate from everything else.
It is at this point that we experience for the first time a sense of lack—a lack we believe can be filled by things, relationships, circumstances, careers, a set of religious beliefs, and countless other idols. We spend a great portion of our lives in pursuit of what philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins calls the “Sacred Object.”
As an artist, I spend a great deal of my time doing what Hamlet advises his players to do when he tells them to “hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.”
One would think I might be able to see more clearly the type of folly that is the chasing after a phantom called “Certainty and Security.”
But, alas, I am not.
Instead, I have broken relationships, ruined opportunities, and even injured myself in my various attempts at acquiring what I thought others had and I lacked.
What I am learning to come to grips with now is a simple truth that being whole and complete is not something this life has to offer. That’s not to say I believe what happens after this life is what’s important either. I don’t have any idea what, if anything, happens to us after we die.
That would be the other side of the fence.
When I look on my own side of the fence I see, time and again, that I have been called to help my neighbor and spread love and forgiveness where there is none.
The symbiotic nature of our existence, I am finding, is demonstrated in how we love one another. Love is the very being that connects us and unites us. It was made manifest in our individual lives and in the lives of every living thing at the very moment of our creation.
In the giving up of this desire, we find our purpose in loving and serving others, and the returns on this investment are far greater than you can imagine.
Gradually and then suddenly, in the loving of another, the other side of the fence begins to look a lot less green than the garden that has begun to grow right inside your own heart.
Don’t be afraid, dear friends, of exploring your own yard. Your worth is not tied to what you have or have not obtained in this life.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition and drive to be your best self. Go get you some of whatever, I don’t care. Going after and obtaining *things* (which include relationships and the feelings we get from them) is part of this life’s journey.
I love things! My camera is one of my favorite *things* I have in my life right now (as are my children, Sarah, Watson, etc., etc., and the list goes on).
The difficulty for me exists in the complete and total lie I have believed for so long, to the detriment of so much — that my feeling of lack will be filled by the acquisition of *things*, whether those things be a job, a house, a car, money, etc.
Again, those are not bad things to go after, but do they satisfy your soul? Nothing but Love can do that.
Please know there is nothing to be obtained or lost that is attached to your value, your worth as a unique, beautiful child of
Are you perfect just as you are? Am I?
Of course not! And where did you ever get the idea you were being called to perfection? There is no such thing! There is no *call to perfection* because perfection does not exist.
Strive for it, work hard for it. There is great value in the striving to be your best self. You will never arrive, though. That’s not the point. The destination is the journey. The destination is the striving.
With every breath you take you are moving ahead, evolving, going in one direction or another based on your choices for which you alone are responsible.
Choices and their consequences. That’s all life is — choices and their consequences.
And yet, we’ve not been left alone and abandoned.
How do I know this?
I know this because of the experiential reality of three fundamental beauties that exist to us like the water to the fish–
Faith. Hope. Love.
And the greatest of these is Love.
You, dear reader, are God’s delight, as my new friend Marlena Graves would say.
Happy Sunday, dear ones. You are so very valuable and destined for joy. I hope you know how important you actually are!
And, btw…I love what you’ve done with your garden!
I’VE LEARNED a great deal about myself from trying on other people’s lives for a living. There is something about—in a very real sense—putting your feet into someone else’s shoes and actively moving around as that person in their world for period of time.
That’s my favorite thing about the work of being an actor—becoming someone else. I always feel so honored to be able to literally bring someone to life for whatever length of time it takes to tell whatever story is being told.
I always feel such an honor when I get to work on a brand new piece; one where nobody has ever said these words in this order before. I especially love when the playwright is in on the process, so they can see their creation come to life in you.
Maybe it’s because I’m also a writer that I love collaborating with the playwright in the room, that I don’t get nervous that I’ll *mess up* somehow. I want to do the best I can to tell the playwright’s story, as it is in their head. The writer has an intention to release out into the world, and I want to do my best in doing my part to make that intention into meaning for those who experience the piece.
I’ve come to think that way about my own life, lately—A story about who I am and who I am becoming. The Creator and I co-create my life’s story, and we’re always together in the room.
I like when I get the opportunity to play real people from history. In a way, it’s like creating your very own Frankenstein monster. The person you’re *resurrecting* is not actually alive in this reality, but you re-animate him or her with your body and mind, and they get to do things again.
For three hours a night (give or take), you get to lend every bit of you to the service of giving life to this creature, this creature who desperately has something to say.
Most of the time, though, I get to play fictional people. People who were made up in someone else’s mind.
Having the privilege of imagining what it might be like to be someone else is not the same as actually being someone else. Of course, it isn’t. But, how can we have empathy for someone we don’t know if we don’t at least try to imagine what they must be going through.
I’ve played a lot of bad people in my career, people you never see get redeemed. That’s because the story is mainly about someone else, and that’s cool with me.
What I love about playing bad guys is that you need the bad guy in order for the good guy to be the good guy.
“Ragtime,” for example, is just an interesting short-story about somebody finding a baby in their garden until I come in as Willie Conklin and drop the n-word in front of God and everybody.
“And there it is,” I would often hear the audience whisper. “Here we go!”
You can’t affect change in the theater unless there is truth in a moment. That particular moment in “Ragtime” was so important to the show and had to feel so real. Otherwise, it becomes cheap and trite. The stakes have to be there every single time. I tried my best to throw darkness out so that the light could do its shining business. Most of the time, I think it worked.
And it exhausted me.
Summoning up that kind of hate—even the appearance of it—takes a toll, like watching the video of George Floyd being murdered. The more you watch it, the closer you can come to despair. The story may not be finished, but that moment will never go away.
In the summer of 1998, I was cast as Uncle Ernie in “The Who’s Tommy” at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. The things this man is depicted as doing to a young Tommy were beyond anything I could get my mind around.
My daughter was three years old, at the time. Who does that to a child?
“I just can’t relate to that in any way,” I kept saying to myself, to the director. “Those acts make this person unredeemable, unloveable. I can’t get past it.”
I struggled with that barrier in my performance all through the rehearsal period. I went through the motions as best I could. I really *tried* everything, and nothing worked, nothing convinced.
Then came our first preview.
At the end of the musical, Tommy (the now hearing, seeing, Pinball Wizard back from far away, played so beautifully by Matthew Magill) sings with the entire cast in the finale.
In our production, Tommy, during this final musical number, was to “have a personal moment” with a family member. Something not necessarily noticed by the audience. Kind of a “find something to do here” type of thing.
On this night, Tommy approached Uncle Ernie and stood right in front of me. He looked me in the eyes and then put his arms around me, holding me. He was forgiving his abusive Uncle with a tender hug.
I burst into tears and could not stop crying.
You might be tempted to say, “Well, that wasn’t real. That’s not real life.”
I assure you: It might not have been my *real life* but it was absolutely real. If there were a way that Tommy could forgive Ernie (even in the confines of *make believe*) then there would always be hope for me, for all of us.
There is a force at work in the world right now, and She is begging us to seek first to listen and understand. The time for that is right now, and there has never been a more perfect time in history to do it the world over. We’re ready!
We are beginning to write our story in the type of collaborative way that was never before possible.
YOU KNOW MY FEELINGS about Daniel Day-Lewis. One of the two greatest living film actors, the other being Meryl Streep. Obviously.
I might have seen Day-Lewis’s very last ever movie (please, God, say it ain’t so!) the day it came out. It could have been the next day, but let’s say it was the day it came out, for the sake of this particular argument.
The film, by one of my favorite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, is called “Phantom Thread.” In it, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a renowned dress maker in 1950’s London named Reynolds Woodcock.
One of my favorite scenes happens relatively early on, when Reynolds is telling his companion about how he always sews a piece of fabric with his name into the garment somewhere. It’s hidden away, and no one knows about it except Reynolds and the fabric.
There’s something about that secret knowing that really interests me.
Reynolds would create a dress and then send it out into the world. When he sewed his name in with the fabric, it felt to me as if he were making a promise to the dress to always be with it, to literally co-exist with it, giving the dress its very worth by branding it with his name. It was such a personal, intimate gesture.
I imagine Reynolds making a dress for an occasion. And then what? What happens to the dress after that amazing debut?
I imagine that dress getting sold for charity and closeted and never worn and going out of fashion and finally being given away, probably.
Maybe, years later, a woman sees something about this dress she’s purchased for twenty-five dollars from a thrift store. She can’t quite put her finger on what that is, exactly, but she knows all it needs is a little TLC and a good pair of shoes, and it will be just perfect for her daughter’s theater company, for which she is the costume designer.
“What’s this in the fabric? Oh, my God,” she says.
“What is it?”asks her daughter.
“This dress was made by Reynolds Woodcock in 1954 in London.”
“Who is that?”
“Only the greatest dress maker of his time! This tag with his name was sewn in. It was hidden all this time. I heard he used to do this with every one of his creations, but that’s just become legend, a myth. But it’s actually true! Do you know how much this dress is worth? I’ll never look at a vintage dress the same way again!”
It’s not that the dress wasn’t worth an exorbitant amount of money the entire time. It absolutely was (It was a Reynolds Woodcock original, after all).
It’s just that nobody looked for the tag, and the further it got away from Reynolds, the fewer people knew to look for the tag with Reynolds’ name. It was the discovering of the tag which identified the maker, and that made the worth visible to the mother and her daughter.
That was just something I imagined.
Then it made me think.
Each of us was created by the one who sews his name right into our very being. We were created with the name Love stitched into the very hidden fibers of our souls. We were literally created with and by Love itself, and Love is inextricably intertwined with us as we live our everyday.
(But, it’s hidden.)
Here’s the thing:
We go on for years feeling we have no worth because we have forgotten about the sewing. We’ve forgotten that God spoke with each and every one of us, individually, at the very first moment of our creation:
“You are the only one of you, an original, one of a kind. There never has been, nor will there ever be another you. And I have sewn my name on the very center of your heart so you will know how much I value you. You will live with my name—Love—always on your heart.”
Maybe we’ve forgotten that promise of our worth because we’ve gotten shut away and undervalued for so long. If we don’t feel valued, we forget our worth.
Others don’t give us our value or our worth. That was given to us at the time of our creation. What others do is provide us with the opportunity to rediscover our own worth by seeking out the worth of another.
Imagine looking at another person and seeing them as a one-of-a-kind, original work of art by the finest craftsman of all time.
Because that is what each one of us is.
Each and every individual is like the finest, original, one-of-a-kind dress made by the greatest dressmaker there ever could be.
We know our worth and value because of the tag of Love sewn in before we were even born. We have been given our worth by Love, itself.
The authenticity of your life was stitched into you at your making. If you’ve forgotten that, I am here to tell you that I can see your hidden tag.
THERE’S A BIT OF A STORY behind how I came to make these four photos I made a couple weeks ago, and if you have seven-and-a-half minutes, I’d like to share it with you.
On the 24th of May, Sarah, Watson and I finished an episode of Family Feud and were about to head upstairs to bed. It was probably 10:00pm.
Watson went out back for the final time, and I sat on the back steps, feeling the breeze. It was gentle, the breeze. My cheek touched it as it passed. That might sound strange (it was strange to type, just now), but I felt as though, somehow, this small bit of moving air was meant for only me, at that moment.
“Just notice me, for a second,” the breeze seemed to say.
Watson and I made our way back inside, having successfully evaded Max (the deeply troubled dachshund next door) and, for some reason or no reason at all, I sat back down in the middle of the sofa and began flipping channels on the TV, instead of following Sarah up to bed. Watson decided on the love seat as his bed for the moment, curling up into a furry, black and white ball against one armrest.
Sarah had gone upstairs at some point when Watson and I were outside, and I guess I didn’t realize she had turned off all the lights downstairs, leaving the living room to be lit by the television alone, which is plenty of light with which to navigate our downstairs quarters.
Our television remote has about .05% battery power, and I sat there for a good twenty minutes before I reached the threshold of frustration required to hit the power button and finally retire for the night.
With a push from my thumb, the TV instantly went black. The darkness hit my eyes immediately, and I was unprepared for it. It took me a moment to adjust. Nothing irregular. I stood and walked over to Watson to say goodnight.
ME: Goodnight, buddy. Love you.
WATSON: Goodnight, Rosie.
WATSON: Just kidding, dude. Goodnight. Love you.
I realized my eyes had adjusted to the light, and that the light my eyes had found was coming from a familiar source, but one I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to.
The light was coming in from our porch bulb and was streaming through a small window, illuminating the staircase and the wall beside it in a way that commanded my attention. It was as if the light was calling to me to notice it.
My camera happened to be sitting on the table next to the couch. I reached down, picked it up, and turned it on without ever taking my eyes off the light. I was spellbound. I put the viewfinder to my eye, instantly saw the frame I wanted, and pressed the shutter.
I looked at the picture, like the impatient child I have always been, wanting instant gratification. With only a quick glance, I thought I had something decent and should probably head up to bed. But, I suddenly felt compelled to take a few minutes longer with this experience.
“Slow down, a minute. Where do you have to be right now? Nowhere. Relax. Remember the breeze from earlier? Take a few minutes with this. Be curious. Look how beautiful it is!” I thought to myself.
I moved around that staircase from every angle I could think of, looking through my lens and capturing whatever I could see. During the entire experience, I was completely at one with my intention, my work, my purpose. I was in a *zone.*
Now, none of this story is about how good or bad my work is. It’s about how I got to notice something for the first time that I had probably seen hundreds of times before and never recognized. It’s about how I spent time in the midst of the beauty that is always there but rarely seen and came away with a way to share that experience with others.
*Seeing the light on the stairs* is certainly a metaphor (maybe even a decent book title), and I’ve been looking closely at the lessons that metaphor brings me.
It’s also different than a metaphor, though, because in the experience of making those photos, I spent about twenty minutes creating. And during that creative process, I was in communion with that which is more than me. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I was being called to see that light on those stairs.
Maybe I have been called to see it before. Maybe often. But this time, I *heard* this call, this persuasion, and spent time being guided by it.
I think the photos are pretty decent, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they were terrible. The experiential reality of a realm *beyond me* was made present to me through that twenty minute photo session.
I believe art is one of the conduits through which we can share with each other what being a human is like, and, through the gift of creativity, also come into communion with the “Mysterious More”— a name I once heard Marcus Borg, an intellectual hero of mine, give to what many might call, God.
When you hear a song that moves you, watch a television show that enraptures you, really examine a painting or a photograph that transports you, let a poem wash over you in a way which takes your breath away, or even notice the way a bit of light hits a staircase in just the right way, your life is different than it was before that event. It’s undeniable.
I have begun giving myself permission to trust those moments again. I respect them in a way I haven’t for a very long time, if I ever really did. Those moments, those events, give me such hope. When I experience them, I feel as though what I do matters.
With art, there is a creator with an intention, an audience with some kind of expectation, and the work. When I was shooting our stairs, though (and in many other personal examples I have thought about since), I felt I was *sharing* the process of creation with something beyond me, with the Mysterious More.
Why can’t I call it *God*?
Because, I just can’t right now.
Maybe I will again, but for now, I affirm a *Great Mystery.*
Today on The Wednesday Re-Blog (Maybe I’m calling it this now? I don’t know. beta testing and whatnot), I want to share with you some words from my friend Alexandra Silber and introduce you to the beautiful soul who writes them.
I met Al in the fall of 2012, when we appeared together in the American premiere of Love Story: The Musical in Philadelphia. She played The Ali MacGraw role, and I played the doctor who broke the news (spoilers? I can’t help you).
It’s the only show we’ve ever done together, and I haven’t seen her since we closed just before Halloween of that year. But her life has continued to make an impact on mine.
I started to write her a letter a few years ago to tell her what her life and work have meant to me over the last almost eight years, but I can’t finish it. I don’t know why.
Meantime, “London Still” is her blog. This is where you should start. (and follow her on Twitter @alsilbs and Instagram @alsilbs of course!)
– Trying to [falsely] control anything. [Because literally LITERALLY, we cannot control a single actual thing other than our own responses to life right now. And let’s face it: sometimes not even that.]
– Caring what others think. [I’m not gonna wear pants and you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care if YOU care. And I suspect you’re probably not wearing pants either so don’t come for me, Karen]
– Judgment (of self and of others). [*GIANT SIIIIIIGH*] A big one. What do I care what people are posting on the internet? What business is it of mine if someone feels good and productive and contributory singing sad songs at their piano on Instagram Live, or making videos about frothy coffee? Who cares if others are doing a Zoom play reading, or organizing a gigantic Google Hang reunion, or interviewing their friends on YouTube for charity or even just for fun? If it isn’t your vibe, that’s okay. Decline to tune in. If it makes them feel better right now, good for them. Let them do their thing. I (and you) have the agency to decline to participate. You don’t have to tune in! You don’t even have to know it’s happening! USE that wonderful mute button and revisit that follow when the Pandemic is over.
THE OLDER I GET, the more I realize there are things I remember and things I don’t. What I also have begun to realize is that the list of each of those things is in somewhat of a constant state of flux. It all depends on where I am in my life at a particular moment.
Is there a string of thoughts that leads me to a particular memory? Or does a smell, sight, or sound trigger something in my embarrassingly hollow skull that takes me for a “walk down Amnesia Lane,” as Mr. Keating once put it?
Sights and sounds and smells and all the rest of it should not be underestimated. They may lie dormant for twenty-five years, but each one of them can (collectively or individually), find a way to hit you right between the eyes with a memory you thought was put to bed long ago.
Then, there are the more obvious memories that may have finally learned how to sleep for three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, making an appearance on the one day that seems determined to never accept its place as ordinary ever again.
That’s a day that asks you to look around where you are. It’s a day that asks you what you want to do now, in whatever time we have.
I remember being old enough to learn about President Kennedy’s assassination and asking my parents where they were when it all went down. I wanted to know what they were doing. Their stories of that one day fascinated me. As I’ve aged, I’ve begun to see how I’ve been accumulating those kinds of moments in my own life.
I was in detention with Mr. C for fighting the day Ronald Reagan got shot.
I was taking a Geometry exam when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
I was lying in my bed with Malisa and our daughter Mikaela when our third-floor apartment shook pictures off its walls and slid our furniture around.
Someone had just blown a hole in Oklahoma City’s heart.
Can it be twenty-five years? Of course it can. It has been. Funny. And not.
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma had James Rocco at the helm at the time. He felt there was something the theater community could do, and he was right. We needed a fundraising concert. So, we had one.
The stars came in from all over, and it was a whirlwind. One rehearsal with Joel Levine and the OKC Philharmonic and then the show. It was a long day.
I was a local artist, invited to participate by Jamie, and I was just thrilled to be able to do something. With a newborn only twenty days old on the day it happened and a wife recovering, I had been unsure about how I could be of any use.
During the rehearsal for the concert, many of us sat in the theater’s balcony to watch the “show” as each singer ran through their number with the orchestra. They were all so wonderful, one after the next.
Then, Sandy Duncan took center stage.
“Testing. Is it working? Oh, I can hear it now, thanks! Hi, everybody!!”
We were chatting about nothing in the balcony. I was probably sitting back with my feet up on the seats in front of me.
“Okay, you want to try it once or twice?” she asked. “Okay, perfect! Here we go!”
She bowed her head slightly to prepare, then raised her head to signal she was ready. My eyes locked onto her. It suddenly became perfectly crystal-clear to me that Sandy Duncan had left the building, and Peter Pan had just landed on center stage.
We were all about to take flight.
I have a place where dreams are born,And time is never planned. It’s not on any chart, You must find it with your heart.Never Never Land.
“Where is this place where dreams are born?” my heart asked, as Peter began.
It might be miles beyond the moon, Or right there where you stand. Just keep an open mind, And then suddenly you’ll find, Never Never Land.
You’ll have a treasure if you stay there, More precious far than gold. For once you have found your way there, You can never, never grow old.”
I suddenly realized everyone had gotten quiet and was beginning to lean forward a little. I was sitting in the fourth row of the balcony, dead center, hypnotized by this amazing creature before me, before us all. I can remember the feeling now.
And that’s my home where dreams are born, And time is never planned. Just think of lovely things. And your heart will fly on wings, Forever in Never Never Land.
“Take me to this place, Peter,” my heart pleaded. “I want to stay there. I want to live there!”
You’ll have a treasure if you stay there, More precious far than gold. For once you have found your way there, You can never, never grow old.
And that’s my home where dreams are born, And time is never planned. Just think of lovely things. And your heart will fly on wings, Forever in Never Never Land.
There was a moment of time, just after the song finished, when there was silence. It was probably less than a second long, but I lived a lifetime in that moment. Tears were streaming down my face as they are right now as I write this in remembrance. I am in that moment again right now, and I can go there whenever I like, whenever I want to, whenever I need to.
Then, the entire theater erupted in applause. Every duty being performed in the rush to prepare the theater for this special concert stopped, and those performing the duties clapped and cheered, grateful for the opportunity to leave the sadness for just a moment and fly to a place where dreams are born and time is never planned.
Sandy Duncan’s performance of “Neverland” at a rehearsal for what was (up until that time, God help us) the saddest collective occasion I’d ever been a part of as an artist changed my world forever.
Sometimes, we need individual healing moments and sometimes we need collective healing moments. Once in a while, both of those moments can happen at the same time.
This moment was/is a big one for me. It’s what I’m choosing to remember today.