Saturday, May 18, 2013

Never Alone

On a past post, I mentioned my high school years ushering at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, where I saw Broadway shows free as a thank-you for helping out.  The show "I Do!  I Do!" starring Robert Preston and Mary Martin was one of my favorites.  Even to this day I have most of the songs memorized.

The interesting thing about this particular show is that the two characters carried the show by themselves - no other actors to help share the load.  From Wikipedia:
The two-character story spans fifty years, from 1895 to 1945, as it focuses on the ups and downs experienced by Agnes and Michael Snow throughout their marriage. The set consists solely of their bedroom, dominated by the large fourposter bed in the center of the room.

As I was thinking of those extraordinary performances, I realized that only as I got older did I appreciate the magnitude of a 2-person play.  The responsibility of singing the songs, getting the laughs, evoking the tears - just using the skills of two people - what a feat that was!  Of course, these two were seasoned, magnificent performers and the audiences adored them.

Also as I got older, as I accumulated the wisdom one can pick up here and there, I realized that these two exceptional actors, of course,  did not carry the play alone.  In preparation to doing the play, they were helped by choreographers and voice instructors and directors.  People had to sew their costumes.  People had to print the scripts and the programs.  When the two went on tour, people had to book their performances, make reservations for hotels, find transportation, generate publicity, and all other necessary planning steps.  Then during each performance, there were other people in charge of costume changes, set, lighting, audio, musical accompaniment.  Even before the touring group got to Memphis, people had to clean the auditorium and prepare all the details of what would be needed.

The audiences played an important part, because without an audience, there is no show.  And that's where I come in.  I helped seat the audience.  I was a part of it all.

Just another reminder that we are all connected and it is impossible to be a self-made man or woman.  We all had help, and continue to have help, along the way.  Even today, a mechanic keeps our car running well so I can get to work, the Bangor Hydro folks keep the electricity going so we can maintain a household and I can type these words, the good people at John Edwards downtown worked to sell us the food we will have for supper, the doctor's office gave me the Rx for my daily thyroid pill I took this morning - and, of course, the list is never-ending because the chain is never-ending.  Life is a group effort.

I love the idea of daily moments of gratitude, and part of that gratitude has to be a thanks to all the fellow humans who have helped me and continue to help me along the way.  My life is not a one-person show. Bless you all.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Public Speaking

One of my favorite jokes:

A man is sent to prison for the first time. At night, the lights in the cell block are turned off, and his cellmate goes over to the bars and yells, "Number twelve!" The whole cell block breaks out laughing. A few minutes later, somebody else in the cell block yells, "Number four!" Again, the whole cell bloock breaks out laughing.

The new guy asks his cellmate what's going on. "Well," says the older prisoner, "we've all been in this here prison for so long, we all know the same jokes. So we just yell out the number instead of saying the whole joke."

So the new guy walks up to the bars and yells, "Number six!" There was dead silence in the cell block. He asks the older prisoner, "What's wrong? Why didn't I get any laughs?"

"Well," said the older man, "sometimes it's not the joke, but how you tell it."

It's true that some things don't need to be spoken.  It's also true that this happens more and more as a couple stays together.  Ed and I, married almost 39 years, can certainly finish each other's sentences and sometimes we will encounter a situation or hear or see something and I just know that we are remembering the exact same shared memory and we will laugh or tear up spontaneously in response to that without a word being spoken by either of us.

I've said and not said a lot in my life so far.    Just like actions, some of the things I've said I'm happy I got to say them.  Others, I cringe when I think about them.  Then at other times, I should have spoken up when I stayed silent.

Communication is a strange thing.  Language can hurt or heal and so much of it is so impulsive that we rarely take a prudent moment to realize the long-lasting effect of what we are about to say.

My niece Kate, like many others her age, is graduating from college today in Tennessee.  At graduations all over the country, speakers (famous, infamous, and relatively unknown) are gearing up to give the new graduates the wisdom of the ages, or at least of the moment.  I often wonder what I would say to Kate and her younger sister and our grandchildren and everyone else growing up in this wild world if I had only a limited time to impart advice.   So I wrote her a short letter about my mantra, the Serenity Prayer, which I've quoted in this blog many times  - God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.   That's a solid foundation on which to make decisions in life.

What I would also tell these young folks is this:  Remember, life has no rewind button; speak carefully.  I gave a children's sermon once about feathers from an old Jewish tale, and it went something like this:  A rabbi took his students out into a large field.  He asked his students to distribute a load of big rocks across the field, which they did.  Then the rabbi asked them to gather up the rocks that they had just distributed.  With effort and time, they managed to find every rock and bring it back.  Then the rabbi produced bags of feathers and asked the students to scatter them over a great distance.  The students did.  Then the rabbi asked them to retrieve each and every feather.  They tried, but had to return to the rabbi, saying that it was impossible because so many feathers had been carried off by the wind and could not be gathered back into the bags.  The rabbi explained that words we say are like feathers - once said, they can never be unsaid and can never be placed back into the bag.  So say them judiciously.

The things I most regret saying, of course, are hurtful ones - words said in the heat of an argument or in a moment of hopelessness or in an escalating time of pure frustration and impatience.  Those words were heard and understood, and they will probably be remembered.  Oh, we can apologize, for sure.  We can try to make it up, which is an admirable step, but in the end, words were said that, like the feathers, are forever blowing around.

While I'm at it, I have to include advice from my mom:  This too shall pass.  That, as I've said before, can be comforting or scary - for as it is a relief to realize the bad stuff will pass, it is disconcerting to realize the good stuff will pass as well, so we need to appreciate it while it is here.

So today Kate graduates from college, and next week our oldest grandchild, Caroline, will turn 10 years old.  I think they both realize what's important in this world, that learning is lifelong, and that they can improve the world by how they act and speak.  You can't go wrong if you speak with love.  And....that they are infused, covered, and permeated with encouragement and support and blessings from family and friends.   Godspeed!