A FRIEND invited us to a play that he was in, and so we went and afterward got together and sat up until all hours BS-ing mostly about the theater. I've had a number of women in my life over the years who were actors and I'd often noticed that they would plug in lines from plays and sometimes whole personae (how would Blanche Dubois handle this argument?). It's a lot of work becoming a character, and after many plays, you can get pretty cluttered up with those facets of yourself that you've caressed and nurtured into full life. After all the work of playing a part, there seems to be a danger of being that character in real life and sometimes actors lose their real selves and spend their time off- stage as though it were a world of shadows and only the stage were real.
He said that though acting allowed him to be or do things that he couldn't possibly do or be in real life, he didn't want it to become real life. He liked being an actor, but he liked being alive even more. He wanted to keep himself aware of the distinction. So, after every play he said good-bye to his character, and thanked it for letting him be it, then let that part go and regained the wholeness and balance that at least during the run was forsaken so that this character could become real. Sometimes it was harder than others. Sometimes he'd get drunk and cry and walk around and talk aloud. Sometimes the character didn't want to leave, but had to go anyway. Sometimes he didn't want the character to go, either.
So will it happen to us each and every one, when all our lines are said, and our part in the play is done, that it comes time for our character to bow off the stage. Back in the dressing room, wiping off the makeup with cold cream and tissues until there in the mirror we meet the gaze of our almost-forgotten true self. Walk home alone in the cold night air and sit down, and bid our lifelong character a formal and respectful good-bye. Sincere thanks, a handshake, a hug, and then it's time to part. Perhaps another play will come along, and perhaps not; and perhaps we will get a new character and learn new lines and take on a new role, and perhaps not. Perhaps we will then enter reality.
(June 13, 1997)
"Say Goodnight, Gracie" is a tag-line from the radio and later television show starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. Gracie, playing the role of the dumb blonde, would respond, "Goodnight, Gracie." I understand that this sentiment is inscribed on her gravestone.
When in Berkeley last week, the Dalai Lama was asked about death. What with translators and all the answer was long and circuitous and at one point he stopped and looked off into the distance and just when everyone thought he would come up with something really profound he said "Now let's see; what were we discussing?"
Reminded, he said "Oh yes, death. It's important to prepare for it. It's a part of living, and your life isn't complete unless you prepare for it. If you don't prepare for death, it will come as a terrible shock." If anybody should know about dying, it's the Dalai Lama.
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