It’s January 12, 2019. My last post was on returning home after my mother’s funeral. She died on Halloween Day. My Daddy died three years ago. So I am now, in my dotage, an orphan. An old woman orphan.
These days, life stretches out behind me, like it stretched out before me when I was young. I’ve been here awhile, and sometimes I wish I’d handled things differently, made different choices, seen different outcomes. But that’s a tight, smoking circle that always leads me back to this truth: the lessons learned were worth the price of the trip. I am who I am thanks to every little thing. And yet …
Days come and go, the sun rises and sets. I make choices every morning, change my mind mid-coffee, reevaluate over lunch, set out to accomplish “at least one material thing” mid afternoon, resign myself to the day I’ve spent over dinner, and start looking at the clock around six thirty, wondering if it’s too soon for pajamas. Do you do that? I don’t know, maybe I’m an island of internal conflict, arm wrestling with procrastination … winner gets ice cream.
But in the grand scheme of life, there are some things that I can feel good about checking off.
- I’ve come through decades of counseling, most of it good, in my quest to unpack all the baggage, and to unearth who I was put here to be.
- I’ve painted houses, and portraits, written articles, and songs, designed homes, developed media projects … each activity a response to the creative pool that undulates inside me. I never reached for fame. I was and am always on a mission to follow that creative urge, whatever it was or is, to its completion.
- Loving, more than being loved, has been my modus. “Spill love everywhere” is a motto I embrace. Even if it seems invisible; even if it appears, in the immediate instant, to make no difference at all. Keep it up. Keep going. And when I spill love on others, I can’t help but get some on myself. Love is messy. It gets all over everything.
A favorite quote:
“Her finely touched spirit still had its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive, for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” – George Eliot, “Middlemarch”
In this huge world, with all these people, it’s easy to want to be relevant. Publicly relevant. To make a difference, and be recognized for it. But I’m consciously choosing, in this little life, to focus on the doing rather than on the being. It matters not who knows it, other than I. I know. I know the truth; the beautiful, ugly, magnificent, broken truth about who I am, what I’ve done/not done, for better or worse, throughout these years.
When I lay my head down on the pillow at night, in the sober darkness, I am fully present for that truth. I beg God’s forgiveness, His mercy, and His grace. Broken people do broken things, every single day. We’re all broken. But we can — in our brokenness — aspire. Aspire to wholeness. And it’s love — of self, of others, of this life we live — that will get us there.
I didn’t know about her for years. Never heard of her. Then, one day, in the period I would soon dub ‘the dark night of my ex-husband’s soul’ she came. A light dawned.
I’d always been a creative girl, a passionate teen, then while wedded I morphed into an unsure and eagerly accommodating woman. When I finally acknowledged the “past due notice” and filed for “the divorce,” I realized I couldn’t speak. No, listen, I could string words together, I could even sound coherent on occasion, but the kernel of “me” at the heart of it all was missing. When did I grow so soft?
There I was, plowing through the molasses searching for my focus when, at a Screen Actors Guild Directors’ meeting, I met Nat Benchley. ‘Benchley, Benchley, let me think,’ I thought as I smiled that smile and shook his hand.
Nat immediately had me smitten, as most brilliantly eloquent men do … I do love a great mind. And his was incredible, I thought, until … well, his nickname for me was a little off putting. “Reverend Gorgeous.” I can barely type it even now. It makes me blush, and warms my heart. But that’s not the point here. The point is, Nat was sharing with me stories about his grandfather Robert, and how this woman, Dorothy Parker, was his sidekick and best friend.
Well, I’d never heard of the woman, and you already know exactly what I did. I looked Dorothy up, bought her books, checked her out … and thought, ‘HEY! I recognize that voice … that irreverent, brilliant, hysterically ironic voice. It . Sounds . Like . Me .’
So that was the first step, learning about Dot. The next meeting Nat and I attended was in New York, and he decided we should go some place called the Algonquin Hotel. Over martinis with three fat olives he educated me on the infamous “Vicious Circle” and — as we sat at that very same round table, regaled me with tales of how his Grandfather and Dot would hold court there everyday at lunch. And so, we and our colleagues sat. We laughed. We drank. Because, you know. Dot and Robert.
Hirschfeld drawings of Benchley, Parker, and company lined the walls. The more I learned, the more I was convinced: Nat and I should do a two-person show, Robert and Dot. I mentioned it to him. He loved it. But life got in the way, as it tends to do, and we never happened.
That was years ago, and I only remembered these things when reading a piece this morning by Dorothy Parker. I’m much older now, and am not sure I still have the swagger necessary to deliver a good “Dot” onstage. But I love my warm memories of Nat Benchley. I continue to relish Parker’s writing, her voice, and the very clear knowledge that it was she who, thanks to Nat, helped me find my own.
Truth is something I think most claim to be aligned with. Many people swear they are always on a quest for truth. But I wonder: does anyone know what they’re saying? And if they do, do they really mean what they say?
I go through deliberate periods of brutal self-examination. I’ll confess, I don’t do it as often as I should. But when I’m in the process of it, I have a “no bullshit” rule; I force myself to face the true things about me and how I view life. It’s not fun. It can be exhausting, and humbling. But to live authentically, or “in truth,” isn’t it crucial? For me, the answer is yes.
I think we want to believe we are who we claim to be. But pretty much always, in many ways (sometimes most ways) we’re just not; it’s very easy to get off track and not even know it. And to not even think about that possibility.
We often choose positions and embrace opinions about things, and then “back the information in” that will support what we’ve already decided. It’s true. We all do it.
And we gravitate to others who agree, because it’s so much easier to surround ourselves with people on every strata who reaffirm our stories. … Then we can convince ourselves that what we’ve chosen to believe is authoritative; good, and noble. Being a member of such a group renders us reassuringly superior. It’s great to feel so right.
With the best of intentions, we dress our parsing, our denial, in beautiful stories … stories of bravery and justification; stories of righteousness and independence.
And yet, truth just sits there. It does not shout. It does not defend itself or try to convince. Nor does truth move, or shrink, or change, based on our opinion about it, or our unwillingness to acknowledge it.
Every night, when the darkness comes, and we lay our heads down on our pillows, that truth … that quiet, unassuming truth that lives at the center of every good thing … revisits our hearts. We know. In that deepest part, we all know.
And every night, in each of these quiet, private moments shimmers an opening; the chance to say “yes” to the rattling of our tidy preconceptions. Relaxing our hold is the willingness through which we can climb, into a world fraught with things that were, things that are; a vast universe of open-ended questions and limitless possibilities. The mysterious and miraculous are waiting for us there.
It only takes one brave, courageous moment to let it pull us out of our defensive rightness.
Just once, let’s refuse to roll over, turn our backs to it; let’s refuse to continue the nurturing of our own self contempt.
This one small choice; this different choice – when applied in enough hearts – is sure to transform this weary, broken world.