I attended a memorial service Saturday morning, and it wiped me out. It was done well – classy, understated, happy. By the end I’d lost the ability to speak, or at least to converse intelligently. I had a show to put on that evening, and I was muddled.
“The price of admission is love.” Those were among the opening words at the service. It was not a maudlin occasion. Demons were only mentioned indirectly, although perhaps they loomed larger for some who have wrestled with “thoughts of death,” as my old therapist used to put it. When you distill a life to 120 minutes of celebration, the messy parts are left out. The remaining struggle is noble, imbued with narrative arc.
Having fought suicide, I felt a tug during the service. This is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t been swamped by that utter blackness. Our speaker said, “When love is in the driver’s seat, all kinds of other emotions call shotgun.” I am filled with love, sometimes painfully. I know I am loved. But sometimes other emotions grab the wheel. Sometimes visibility drops to zero and your steering is for shit and you can’t stop and the road twists and turns out from under you. As I sat in the auditorium and felt those jumbled feelings I again longed for the clean arc, the finished story, the absence of messiness.
“The opposite of love is freedom.” The hard thing about love is not giving, but receiving. Because if you’re open to receive you risk rejection. You acknowledge that you need others, which can be terrifying.
On Saturday evening I sat in the empty theater before showtime, trying to compose these thoughts. After a while, a cast member sat down next to me.
“My nephew [the youngest in our ensemble] is from an abusive environment. My mother has custody of him, and he spends a lot of time with me. When he opened the card you gave him on opening night, he couldn’t believe somebody would thank him for being in the show. He said, ‘That’s so nice.’ On the way home, he fell asleep in the car, still holding the card. When I tried to take it from his hand he said, ‘Don’t take my letter.’ He slept with it next to his pillow.”
My throat got tight and I suddenly felt the old panic, that I might reveal myself. “It was such a small gesture.” But something clicked as the story washed over me. The price of admission is love. And we go on together.