Friday, February 28, 2014

A Parable

A certain man went to see his physician. "What is wrong with me?" the sick man asked.

"You are dying, my friend," answered the doctor.

Trying not to cry, the man said, "I've been lying on my bed, waiting to get better."

"That's not going to happen. You are going to die."

"What can I do?"

"You can lie on your bed, waiting to die. Or you can get up and live."

Monday, February 03, 2014

Links in a Broken Chain

I'm trying so hard to gather all these thoughts into paragraphs. But  real life tragedy is much more difficult to organize than the literary kind.

An addict isn't any more weak or wicked or villainous or sinful than a sober person. An addict is just someone who hurts, and is willing to try anything to create some space between their heart and the pain.

I don't believe that great artists necessarily become addicts because of their genius or their capacity for deep feeling. But I do think people who feel deeply often turn to art as a way to try and make sense of the feelings that the world has no other place for. And addicts feel both joy and pain to an unbearable degree.

Stations of the Cross, #9 Jesus Falls a Third Time
John Ilg

It is both inexcusably naive and terribly cruel to sit in judgement of another's inability to stand up under the weight of their own cross. Or to judge their cross based on the weight of your own.

Suffering is not currency. There are no mitigating circumstances that make a celebrity's pain worth less than a homeless junkie's. And no, you would not trade a day of  your life for Philip Seymour Hoffman's.

The difference between hiding inside a gallon of ice cream or a fifth of bourbon or a 60 hour work week or a carton of Marlboros or a needle full of smack is only one of degree. It's just that you don't find dead food junkies with a needle full of Krispy Kremes hanging out of their arm.

Accepting that you are powerless is not the same thing as admitting you are a victim. There's a reason there are TWELVE steps to sobriety, not just one.

Addicts have children. They have parents. Friends. Lovers. Mentors. Neighbors. Fans. And while death is the end of an addict's suffering, it is the beginning of a whole new chapter of pain for the ones left behind.

It is very hard not to hate the people we love, for not loving themselves more.

Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind toward some resolution which it may never find. ~ Robert Anderson

The only way for tragedy to have any meaning is if we make it a source of courage, of compassion, of inspiration. Watching "Capote" made me want to be a better actor. I need learning and writing about the death of this blessed but unhappy man to make me a better friend, son, lover, and brother.

Linda, Willy, Biff
New York Daily News
I am sad that I won't get a chance to see your Willy Loman, or your Torvold, or your Lear. I am sad that I won't ever get to shake your hand and thank you for the hours I spent in dark cinemas, my jaw slack with amazement at your work.  I am sad that your life was so very full of suffering. But deep down, I'm glad that you are finally free from the pain. 

If I seem a bit confused and scattered about my feelings, it may be because deep, deep down, there is a secret part of me that envies your freedom just a little bit... And that scares the living shit out of me.

I am alive. And you are dead. And that doesn't say a damn thing about you or about me. All I know is that the only reason I'm not in that hole with you is that God sent me people who loved me and showed me that my life was worth loving. And before I throw my little handful of dirt onto the box and turn back toward the world that tore your heart apart... I just want you to know that your struggle makes me want to live even more... to love even more... and to be a source of the kind of hope and courage that you, my brother, were never able to find. Just in case the next PSH crosses my path one of these days...


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Anger and Sadness at the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffmann

 Philip Seymour Hoffmann
1967 - 2014
"Every junkie's like a setting sun..."
So many messages of sadness about PSH. I can't seem to get past being angry. I read the news just before leaving for the gym for my workout and by the time I got there, I was furious. I added weight to every rep, and reps to every set, but no matter how much my muscles strained and burned, I couldn't stop stewing and thinking.

About the talented young actors I went to school with who never made it.

About the parents who are so ashamed, but still force themselves to ask for help as they fill out the financial aid request form so their kids can get into swimming lessons or play basketball at the Y.

About the 'Can Man" who pushes a grocery cart up and down North Broadway laden with bags of the dirty aluminum he collects so he can afford a cheap room and enough beer to put him to sleep at night.

About my fellow patients in the mental hospital who refused to let depression and addiction rob them of their will to live.

About the two guys who sleep side by side, on sheets of cardboard, under filthy blankets, in the open pavilion at the head of the Legacy Trail, where I lace up my $100 shoes and run for fun.

Every one of them with a thousand reasons to wish they were dead. And every one of them refusing to give up.

By the time I hit the treadmill for my cool down, I was seething with so much rage that I felt a little bit dangerous. Then I looked up and saw "B." B is around 11 or 12 years old. He is much smaller than the other kids his age, and he gets bullied a lot at school. He is  also smarter, funnier, more determined, and much, much faster. He could easily win his age group when we run in the big races with Run This Town. Instead, last fall, B chose to train with the smallest, youngest member of our team. He coached the little guy along for two months, and when race day came, instead of competing for hardware in his age group, or even the overall standings, B ran side by side with his charge: they crossed the finish line together.

Yeah, it's sad when a talented, famous, successful millionaire kills himself. I hope he is free now from whatever demons were haunting him. But PSH was blessed with an awful lot of things in life, and an awful lot of young people looked up to him. A lot of kids wanted to be like him. And I'm angry.

Angry at him for giving up on life, and dying on the floor with an Oscar on the mantle and a needle in his arm.

Angry at myself for every time I've turned to food or tobacco or work or bourbon... looking for a place to hide from life.

Angry at my friends who think they are too smart or strong or lucky to get tripped up by their addictions the way PSH was this morning.

And just when my anger threatens to become as toxic as a bloody hypodermic in the gutter at the corner of Bedford and Grand, I lift my mind's eye down the hall, and see B on the pool deck... clowning and encouraging a young swimmer who's even smaller than he is.... then diving into the long blue lane, and slicing the length of it like a joyful dolphin.

Now that I think of it, I guess I am more sad than angry about Philip Seymour Hoffmann's death. He wasn't cut out to be anybody's hero. That may be the only part he ever came across that he couldn't play the hell out of. I sure wish he'd had a chance to meet one of my heroes, though. Maybe B could have shown him that life really is worth living.

Funny how a man's role models can change over time, isn't it?

Rest in Peace, PSH. I hope you've finally found the peace that seemed to always elude you here.