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.
Welcome to Friday and the latest edition of “I’m a Fan Friday!”
“I’m a Fan Friday!” is where (usually on a Friday because…well, you know…why not?) I share with you an artist I’m a big fan of.
I’ll usually share a YouTube video or some kind of audio track or something that helps me share with you what others are doing that has had, and is continuing to have, a profound effect on my life in some way.
A few years back (and for a while there, actually), I had a regular series I would do called “I’m a Fan Friday!”
Every Friday (mostly it was Friday, sometimes Saturday or a special “Sunday Edition”), I posted a YouTube video of an artist I’m a fan of. I would showcase a different artist every week, sharing particular performances that bring joy and challenge and meaning to my life.
I don’t know why I stopped doing it. I guess I got too busy making my own stuff to pay much attention to what other artists were making. I needed my “creative time!”
(What a pompous ass, right? Love, forgive me.)
When I get stalled as an artist, what gets me fired up and ready to create something (anything) that points to truth and the greatness of Humanity is taking in someone else’s art.
I couldn’t care less about what type of art someone has made. I have my favorite things, for sure, but if something about a person’s or group’s effort to communicate something lands on my heart right in the center bits and dances for a while, I welcome that art with my entire existence.
Whenever I am reminded of this, I realize I can be an instrument of spreading the joy and life-altering encounters I have had with other artists’ work to anyone who might know or come to know me, whether online or in life or in both.
So, today, two good news things, I think!
First of all, “I’m a Fan Friday!” will be back on 24 April!
So…stay tuned! I’m super pumped about this!
Second of all, I’m going to be devoting Wednesday posts to re-blogging other writers I’m digging right now.
I’m decidedly NOT doing this so that I will have “free content” for a Wednesday post. I am doing it in the exact same vein as “I’m a Fan Friday!”– to share with you, my friends, something that has moved me and made me reflect on what it means to be human.
So…reblogging. What is it and how are you going to do it?
Well, I’m going to start by going a bit meta, as I am often wont to do. Today, I’m going to begin this practice with a re-blog of a re-blog.
I hadn’t thought about this practice much because I never thought to think it even existed. I’m sure I’ve seen examples of it. I just never thought much about it either way.
Then, earlier this morning, a blogger I have come to enjoy did what is called a #writerslift in the online writing community. The writing community is where writing types (I first found the hashtag on Twitter) follow one another, share information, and most especially, find and share each other’s work.
Christina Schmidt writes a blog called Armed With Coffee and it’s definitely worth checking out! Her post from today is such a great example of this type of sharing and honoring. So, I’m going to re-blog her post so that you can go over to her site, read it, and then look around awhile. You won’t be disappointed!
So, the way I will do it (based on a bit of online etiquette research that seemed to lead to a consensus) will be to share one to two paragraphs of the blog post I’m re-blogging followed by a link to that blogger’s site, where you can read more and look around that blogger’s site til your heart’s content.
Or not…whatever you want to do.
So, here is Armed with Coffee‘s writer’s lift for today, Wednesday April 15, 2020. Enjoy and stay safe!!
Writer’s Lift Wednesday #9 Christina Schmidt, MA
This is a writersliftwednesday blog, sharing the works of fellow writers, poets and persons random. All re-blogs will be linked appropriately to their authors.
Writing is no easy calling and nothing easy was ever worth doing.
(7-minute read OR listen to the audio version HERE)
IN THE EARLY SUMMER OF 1980 I was eleven years old. Two years prior, my parents had moved my brothers and me into the forest.
From South Philadelphia to South Jersey, out of a row home and into an attractive, split-level house on an acre of land in a brand new development called McKendimen Woods. They were building a house for us.
I was not excited to move. There was a myriad of reasons, but it was something about having a brand new home that felt weird to me. It’s only now that I’m able to articulate what I felt about that.
We would be the first people to ever live there. Nothing would have happened in the confines of those walls that hadn’t happen to us.
No too-young, just-married bride would have ever sat up late and cried about her new husband being called away to fight the Japanese halfway around the world.
No one had ever chased his sister from one bedroom to the other and back again in pursuit of a Richie Ashburn baseball card because he wouldn’t give her the bubble gum, so she snatched the card right out of his hand and made a run for it.
There were no lingering spirits from families past in our house. We were each other’s ghosts.
At the time we moved in, the development was all new construction; they were literally cutting down forest, plowing roads, marking off plots and putting up one solidly middle-class dream home after another, as long as the money held out.
I don’t know if the money stalled or what happened, but our street was as far back in that little forest as you could go for a little while there.
We were a sort of suburban pioneer family, literally steps away from the natural world—a place not yet settled by humankind. My parents carved out a beautiful home for my brothers and me, among the oak and pine trees of the Pine Barrens when the world first started to fall apart.
There’s a way they world looks to us; I mean, literally how we see the world.
For example, you know you’re home because you see your house and you remember that’s what your house looked like when you last saw it.
On an early summer evening in 1980, my brothers and I—along with some neighborhood children probably—were playing on our street and around our house. We often played a game called “Manhunt,” a kind of “Hide and Go Seek” meets “Capture the Flag.” That’s probably what we were doing.
I remember at one point, for whatever reason I happened to be there, standing at the end of Oak Drive, looking down the block at my home, my whole world at the time. What I saw looked different than it had ever looked before.
It’s hard to describe—and I’ve only tried to explain it two or three times in my life—but I recognized everything I was looking at (the Hayes’ house over here, the Gardner’s over there).
I knew what I was looking at, but I was seeing it differently. The colors of the leaves and the grass were a richer, fuller green, than I had seen before. The dirt was a warmer brown, the way soil looks after a light, afternoon rain. Maybe that’s what had happened earlier in the day; I don’t remember.
What I remember most is that I was aware of the difference and took it in as something beautiful. My remembrance is that the particular way of seeing the world I had been given lasted for the rest of the evening and until I went to sleep that night. It was likely gone by morning.
I also remember not being afraid this way of seeing would go away, that I would never *get it back* again. I just lived in it and felt the joy of it as it was happening.
No need for explanation (How is this possible? Is it the light? It’s probably the light, right?). It didn’t even come up then.
No need to wonder if I was deserving or not (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…A lot. Probably just pre-teen boy stuff but still…). I never thought about that at the time.
I never felt I was *taking advantage* of anyone. The world physically looked different and it was beautiful and I was grateful and that’s that.
I never—and still have not to this day—attached a meaning to it. I don’t think there was an explicit lesson to be taken from the experience one way or the other, but I do believe it to be the first mystical experience of my life. I didn’t read anything into it. I didn’t question why? or ask, what now? I just saw that my world was beautiful at that very moment to me.
Perhaps I could have learned a lesson about living in the moment from that experience some forty years ago (there is no way I just typed “forty years ago!!”). I constantly find myself wanting to *lean ahead* into the moment to come, believing when that moment arrives, all will be well, all will make sense, all will be as I wish it to be.
When I look through the lens of my camera, I see the world as it is at that exact moment. It will never look exactly that way again.
That’s why I share my photos—so others can see what I saw. That’s the point, I think. We share how we see the world with others and others share how they see the world with us. I think that’s how it should be…
I’m interested in how you see the world and what you’re looking at.
I HAVEN’T BEEN sleeping well lately. I’m sure there are many who can say the same right about now.
In fact, if you’re reading this and are sleeping well, I’ll have some of whatever you’re having, please!
The Crouch’s son (let’s call him Barty Crouch Jr. the Third) has moved back in over the north wall, and he’s got his days and nights mixed up.
As I lie there, staring at the ceiling fan at three forty-six in the morning (I should dust that tomorrow. I will. First thing), I try to come up with a way to say the very thing I’ll never say if we happen to see each other out back.
“Listen, Barty Crouch Jr. the Third. I get it—the Call of Duty must be heeded, but *am* is when all good little soldiers sleep and *pm* is when they fight. Understood? That’s a good little soldier.”
This morning—sometime after the “Battle of Detroit” or whatever—I had one of those *just before sunrise* dreams. You might know the kind—you’ve been up and down all night, and just before sunrise you’re able to nod off, hovering in that space between the real world and the one we go to when we sleep.
I have seasonal allergies and with them comes post-nasal drip and with that comes a cough. So, my dream—as you can imagine—had to do with me coming down with Coronavirus.
In my dream I’m lying in my bed, thinking about my regrets and quietly talking to myself. “Well, this is it…This could very well be it.”
“Yes. I’m aware.”
“So, how do you think we did? I mean, if this is really it, if it’s all over, did we do okay?”
“Some hits, some misses. We’ve always had a tendency to over-swing, I think.”
“Yeah…Well…this could very well be it.”
“Yes, I know that. Thank you…Now I’m starting to panic. Appreciate that very much, thanks! That’s just great!!”
Time to get up and go for a run.
A nice little stretch of the Delaware River Canal runs through Bristol, and I enjoy running on it. It takes me around the edge of The Borough and back after a couple of miles south.
Two days ago, I was out on a run in the afternoon. The sun was finally out, and The Borough was teeming with spring beginnings and brand new colors never before seen. There have been colors just like these in the past, but not these colors from the year 2020—the year of the virus.
These are the latest versions from the Cosmic Creative Department – newly printed greens and whites and yellows. Each color is trying to outshine the next like a horticultural car show.
On the route I run, I always follow the canal path under the train overpass and then hop on the paved trail on my way back home. Two days ago was no different. Sometimes I see people along my route and sometimes I don’t. If I do, I normally smile and wave. I’ll nod hello at the very least.
As I was approaching the underpass, the sun was high and cast a deep shadow across the path I was on. The darkness stretched from the underpass wall, over the trail, all the way across the water, to the far bank of the canal. (see pic #3 below).
I was about twenty yards from the shadow when I saw a man and woman walking together. They were an older couple—definitely Boomers—moving in my direction. They seemed to be exiting the shadows like they were afraid of the sun. I could see that they saw me.
I ran steadily on, and as I approached them, they stopped, stepped backward into the shadows, and leaned against the wall, waiting for me to pass them by on the right.
She was wearing a hoodie with the hood up, and he a jacket with a high turned-up collar and a brimmed hat. I entered the shadow and looked at them as I passed. Both of them were leaning on their right side against the wall, faces turned away from me.
I saw her first. She took her left hand and pulled the hood over her face. He had taken his high color in his left hand and pulled it over his face. I tried to smile. I tried to nod.
I continued through the remaining fifteen yards of the overpass, and when I came out on the other side, I stopped. I looked back and saw nothing but the shadow.“What the hell just happened back there?” I asked myself.
“Crazy, right?” I answered.
It was the saddest thing that’s happened to me in a very long time. Not because I took it personally (I totally didn’t), but because this is how we have to live right now; it’s the way things are and the way things have to be. It’s frustrating and sad and scary as hell and it sucks; I wish it didn’t.
I stood on the path, panting from an unexpected stop. My body was tired, and my spirit suddenly became heavy. All of the beautiful, new colors began to blur and melt away as if the color dial had been turned in an extreme direction.
“I don’t think we’re going to make it,” I said to myself.
“Look at the path,” was my answer to that.
I looked at the path.
“Now just start running again. Keep your eyes on the path and just run. Just stay on your path.”
So, I started running again. The colors returned to new. I made it home.
BRISTOL, PA is a nice little river town. I like to photograph it. It’s got a history and a character.
It’s got beauty and sadness and conflict and triumph and regret and ghosts, too.
It’s kind of like any place, I guess. It’s like any person, really. It’s a bit like me.
We live in a row house, right in the middle of the block. We share our northern-most wall with a family I’ll call the Crouches.
That’s not their name. The father’s name is Bart, so Sarah, Watson, and I refer to him as Barty Crouch Jr. He’s more sad than mean, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had the Dark Mark on his arm. He’s kind of hairy, so I’ve never actually seen it.
Barty and I might be around the same age, I would think. I’m finding it harder to determine how old someone is these days. His beard’s got grey in it, like mine. He’s a four-sport Philly Phan, which is virtually a requirement in this town. He also has a MAGA bumper sticker on his 2003 Ford Explorer. We’re unlikely to see eye to eye on political issues, is what I’m saying.
Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. is cordial to me, always says hello. I get the feeling she doesn’t know what to make of me, and I don’t blame her. I don’t know what to make of me either.
The Crouches don’t talk very nicely to each other. I’m not sure if he works some kind of night shift or what, but he’s not around much during the day. He is, however, frequently up at two-thirty in the morning.
I know this because our bed is up against the northern-most wall, and Barty Crouch Jr. has no concept of the fact that there is also life on the south side of his wall, even at two-thirty-four.
When I hear words like, “Well, you should stop being such a stupid bitch!” being screamed from the north wall at two-thirty-seven in the morning, I want to scream back, “SOCIAL CONTRACT!!!”
But I don’t.
Several months ago, I saw someone pull up in their car. A woman got out, came around to the passenger side, opened the door, and helped Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. out of the Honda and up onto the curb where she could get her footing. They walked slowly together up the sidewalk, up the porch stairs, and into the house.
I remember saying to Watson, “I hope she’s okay.”
Every once in a while, I would see a similar scene. Then, one day, I saw her wearing a wig. It was obvious to me because I had seen her real hair plenty of times.
“I think Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. might have cancer,” I said to Sarah.
We began to hear different noises coming from the north after that. Her treatment was making her very sick. Her hair had fallen out, and she had lost some weight.
Whenever I’d see her in passing, I’d want to ask her how her treatment was going, but I guess I thought we were somehow supposed to pretend I don’t know.
It became even more obvious she was ill when she’d go out with just a scarf on her head, abandoning the wig altogether. I didn’t know what to do.
I don’t think Barty Crouch Jr. knew what to do either. Do any of us really know what to do when we first come face to face with that kind of hardship?
Each of us on the block has our own little bit of a backyard. Each one is fenced off, of course. The Crouches have a deck as their back garden. Our sliding glass door opens to the east and when you open it and step out back, you have to go down three steps. At the Crouch’s, you just step right out onto the deck.
Yesterday, we had a beautiful spring evening. The temperature was up, and the sun, when it touched my face, made me feel like I wanted to be hopeful. I wanted to be.
At five-thirty, I was doing some dishes at the kitchen sink in front of the window which I had open, and I started to smell some smoke. It was coming from the Crouch’s deck. Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. was starting a fire in their metal fire pit.
I walked over to get a closer look through the sliding glass door, and as I made my way from sink to door, I heard the music playing. It had probably been playing all along, but she must have turned it up at the chorus so she could sing along because that’s what she did. For one beautiful moment, Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. and Elvis were coming to me LIVE from Madison Square Garden, 1972!
BOTH: We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
HER: (suspicious minds)
BOTH: And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds
I just stood there and listened to her sing and watched her straighten up the deck while the fire warmed her body and The King warmed her soul.
And her hair is back.
She must have just gotten out of the shower because it was still wet. She was letting it dry in the sun by the fire.
SOMETHING I’M FINDING interesting is how much like my normal, everyday life this quarantine-like existence has been so far. I never realized how much time I actually spend by myself. Turns out, I spend a great deal of time working alone, hardly seeing anyone but Watson and my wife (whenever she’s home from work) for semi-long stretches at a time.
I’m certain this isn’t true of all introverts, but maybe some feel, as I do, that they wish they weren’t so introverted. I know I don’t want the anxiety and worry that comes with feeling perpetually out of place. I want to be comfortable around people. I want to strike up a conversation without feeling like Super Dork (one of the less well-known members of the Marvel Universe).
I think I’ve actually become more introverted as I’ve gotten older, to tell you the truth. I also think I might understand people a little differently now than I did half my life ago.
I bet a lot of people can say they understand people differently when they get to the point where they have more years behind them than in front of them. Because math.
Because of experience, too. There’s just no substitute for it. You live, you learn, you grow. That’s how I understand the game to be played.
The most anxiety-ridden moments of my life involve interacting with strangers. And yet, I crave human connection. I need it like I need air and water. I desire it. I long for it. I don’t know how I would live in a world where we don’t touch each other anymore. I don’t like to think about things like that. I’d rather be working.
When someone asks me what I do for a living, I usually just say “I’m an actor” (sometimes I throw *writer* in there, too. It depends on what type of project I’m working on at the time). The conversation usually goes in a different direction after that.
“Do you know anyone famous?”
“I met Kevin Hart once.’”
“That’s so cool! What’s he like?”
“He’s really nice. He took selfies with everyone.”
“Did you get a picture with him?”
“I don’t know.”
That’s about the gist of it. My point is, nobody’s ever really asked me to explain what I actually do in my job.
“Oh, you’re an actor? So, what do you DO, exactly?”
“Well, I try my best to become somebody else who’s going through something significant in his life while a bunch of people watch…I see you’re confused…Let me put it this way: To the best of my ability, I practice being someone else until I’m prepared to go in front of a group of strangers and be that person instead of the one you see before you. Does that make sense?”
That’s basically how it goes. Not those exact words, though. People usually aren’t that interested in me, if I’m honest. They’re just interested in their idea of what I do.
I spend a good portion of my working life trying to be someone I’m not, and while that all might have started out years and years ago as a means of escape for a boy with an imagination and a love for stories, it has become an indispensable practice for a middle-aged man trying to figure out who he is and how he might belong in the world.
I work in “Make Believe,” and in the acting of another person’s life—no matter how small or large the role— I have learned more and more about what it means to be human.
The theater is where we plant seeds in the garden that is the hearts of every human being. Those seeds are ideas and questions about who we are and who we want to be.
When the seeds take (and you can feel it happen; sometimes you can even see it and hear it happening), it is a miracle to be a part of.
It is in this very ground, the soil where we plant for others to experience, that I continue to learn about the human I want to become.
I’ve learned that listening is often more important than talking; that taking chances is imperative and requires guts; that failing isn’t just a part of the process, it IS the process. You absolutely cannot succeed without failing first.
Nothing is ever perfect, but at some point, it has to be finished (I definitely have more to learn when it comes to knowing when something is finished).
In the midst of this disruption we’re all experiencing (because we’re all in this together, if I’m picking up the subtle social media messages correctly), I’ve still been driving for Lyft.
Not much. Just some in the afternoon/early evenings. I feel like it’s something I have to do; I don’t know why. I’m only out a couple of hours a day, but I somehow feel compelled to be available.
I take a lot of folks to work or to the grocery store or home from work after restocking everyone else’s essentials.
I dropped a young man off at his home after a long shift as a nurse at a local hospital yesterday afternoon. He lived on Merlin Street. We could use some magic right about now, I thought, as I pulled up to the curb in front of his house.
“Thank you, so much, my friend,” I said. “Be well.”
“Thank you. Have a good night! Be safe!” he answered, closing the door and stepping onto the sidewalk.
I watched him walk up to his front door. He put the key in and walked right in like it was any old Saturday.
WHEN I WAS A KID in the mid-seventies, my parents used to take my brothers and me to the drive-in movies.
I think it was the summer of 1976 when we pulled the car up in the parking spot, attached the speaker onto the slightly rolled-down driver’s side window, and settled in for a double feature of some kind.
I don’t know what the first movie was. It could have easily been one of the “Herbie the Lovebug” films, but I couldn’t swear to it in court. It was definitely geared toward children, whatever it was.
The second picture was always for the adults. My brothers were usually asleep in the backseat by the time the late movie began, but I would only pretend to sleep. On this night, the late show was a Richard Lester gem, “Robin and Marian.”
It starred Sean Connery as Robin Hood, Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian, and Robert Shaw as the Sheriff of Nottingham. It was much more of a complex story than I could keep up with at the age of seven, but I remember the last twenty minutes or so pretty well.
Whatever the main conflict was, it had escalated to a certain point. At this point, we had two armies on opposite sides, and, if I remember correctly, Robin and the Sheriff decide to meet on the battlefield with broad swords and armor, one-on-one, to hash things out for good and all. Whoever won would be the champion, and the other side would have to accept defeat.
These two mortal enemies went head to head so that no one else would have to get hurt. That was what was agreed upon, anyway. Of course I rooted for Sean Connery! Robert Shaw just deserved to get his smug sheriff face broad sworded, or whatever.
It was a pretty intense fight scene. I remember they looked larger than any two people I had ever seen. The outdoor screen made them giants. Good and Evil, battling it out right in front of me like these Greek gods.
I’ve begun to see Depression as my mortal enemy. To my knowledge, I’ve never had a mortal enemy. Maybe an arch enemy or two but never a mortal enemy. With mortal enemies you really have to hate the person, really want to see their demise. I don’t think I’ve ever really, truly hated anyone.
I screamed “I HATE YOU!!” at someone I loved more than anything in the world one time. I remember feeling like a light inside me had gone out, like the wind made by the uttering of such terrible words blew out the pilot light in one of the rooms of my soul. I’m darker inside because I did that.
I didn’t mean it when I said it, of course. There’s no way I could have. I could never hate anyone, especially that someone. It’s not possible. I was just so sad and angry with myself that I had no idea how to live. Nothing made any sense.
I never thought I had a mortal enemy. Then Depression just showed up on set without even auditioning, demanded the lead role, and informed us all he was also directing.
“Excuse me! Who are you, exactly?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” answered Depression. “You just do what I say and everyone gets hurt. Got me? Comprende?”
“That doesn’t make any sense, actually. So, no…I don’t think I comprende. Why would I want anyone…everyone to get hurt? Why would I do what you say if that’s what’s going to happen?”
“That’s how it works. I don’t write the script.”
“You know, you’re right. You don’t write the script. You just improv your way through a day and expect me to know how to keep up. You just expect me to say, ‘Yes, and…’ to everything. Well, I’m sick of it, honestly. It’s time for me to be the lead writer for a season.”
We have these kinds of talks sometimes. I feel like if I can get him in a one on one type situation, we might be able to battle things out between us without anymore casualties.
With age and experience I’ve gotten to the point where I have a pretty good idea of when my Depression is coming. It’s gotten predictable. It’s showing up in the same old places again and again trying to pass itself off as something new.
“Hello,” I say to it. “I can see you.”
“Do you know what I could do to you?” it asks, with a touch of charm that seems strangely pacifying.
“Yes, I do,” I answer. “And as long as I think I’m alone, you will continue to have power over me. But I don’t think that anymore. We might have to battle it out every once in a while, but I am the hero of my story. You’re my mortal enemy. I have enormous respect for you, but whenever you try to take me on I will smash your face in!”
It’s a team game, this life.
I’ll gladly be on your team if you need another. If not, I can cheer from the sidelines.
A FEW YEARS AGO, I had a bit of a stay in the hospital. The doctor who did my intake interview was very kind and patient with me. He asked me a series of questions. They started off deceptively easy.
“What’s your full name?”
“Robert Scott Langdon.”
“Your date of birth?”
“February 4, 1969.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an actor and a writer.”
That’s the reaction I usually get. My interpretation of that response used to always be, “Well, that’s awfully irresponsible of you. Do you do anything for actual money? How do you live?”
I don’t think that very often anymore, but that’s what I thought then.
“Yes,” was all I said at the time.
He wrote some things down on what I assume was the beginning of my chart. Then, he just casually threw out the question, as if it were simply the next logical one to ask.
“Do you ever think about suicide?”
There it was again. I looked around to see if anyone else was offering strange answers in addition to mine that were confusing him somehow.
“How often do you think about it?”
It felt like a loaded question to me because I thought I had the universal answer.
“Every day,” I answered. “Doesn’t everybody?”
“I don’t mean I have a plan for it every day or anything,” I justified. “I just think about it. Like, how someone might do it.”
“What do you think about, specifically?”
I pondered some of the thoughts that had gone through my mind. One idea was a recurring thought.
“Well,” I started, rather matter-of-factly. “Take the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, for example. People can walk across that bridge almost any day. Whenever I drive over it, I think about how easy it would be to just pull the car over, get out, and jump off. I mean, the barriers are virtually non-existent. Anyone could just jump right off. I don’t have a plan to do that. I’m just saying, anyone could do it.”
Evidently, there’s this scale, and I was closer to the one end than I ever thought I could be.
On Sunday afternoon, I walked across that bridge, taking pictures of what I could see. One thing I saw but didn’t take a picture of was a sign that read, “Suicide Prevention Hotline” and it gave a number to call. I saw that sign on the way up and another one just like it at the apex.
Going up, when I saw the first sign, it barely registered. But when I got to the top and saw a second sign, it hit me. I thought two things:
One—That sign is not meant for me, Mr. Benjamin Franklin Bridge. I haven’t thought about you that way in years.
Two—There are many out there for whom it is meant. I pray they can somehow know, there is so much to live for.
I’ve always been interested in photography. I could literally spend hours with photo books from the great photographers when I was a kid. They were basically all I took out of the library during grade school. I’m fascinated with what it means to capture a moment in time.
Recently—since June 2019—I’ve been taking my photography more seriously. I wanted to make a habit of seeking out and capturing interesting and beautiful things. I wanted to make a habit of seeing moments, of seeing differently in the world, of seeing the world differently. I wanted to notice intentionally.
On Sunday, I stood at the top of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in these crazy, uncertain times and looked outward. I could see as far as my lens could see and it was beautiful. I didn’t look down. The sky was endless.
I was hopeful.
Yesterday, I lost my job. “The Bodyguard: the Musical” was cancelled. Many of my friends have lost their jobs, as well. Not just this show, but shows-even seasons-at theaters everywhere around the world. There are so many affected by our current times, some in ways the rest of us might never imagine.
I’m still hopeful.
I’m hopeful that this experience of *Social Distancing* will—in a strange kind of way—show us how we are all without a doubt fantastically, inextricably connected to one another.
I wish I could tell you Depression will never try to smash your face in if only you would believe a certain way. I can’t. Honestly, I don’t want to tell you that because it’s not true.
Depression is a bastard and cheat and a thief who always lies. That’s the truth.
This is also true: You are never alone, you are loved beyond your understanding, and you matter.