I went to a memorial service two days ago, a service for an old friend from my work a- day- world of some years ago. In another week I will go to a service for another friend, an ex-student from another time, another life, another script.
At the first service there were many of the supporting actors whose lives were engaged in a variety of ways with my friend. Each of them, of course, an actor in more than one set of roles, with more than one leading man or lady. The same will be true next week.
The reality of the complexity of who we are to ourselves and to each other is often too overwhelming to read. At the moment, at this particular moment, meaning a particle of time, a particular moment, I am alone. I am in one of my favorite starring roles, I am in the writing/thinking/writing role.
But being alone is a misleading statement of a physical fact. Once born onto this stage we call the earth, and born into the context of what we call our family, we are never alone. In moments of despair that may not feel true, but it is. Once born we are always in relationship, one way or another, with one person or another, or a pet, or a cherished object purchased through pain or found on a holiday morning, we are always in relationship.
That is what is so confusing. We are simultaneously the protagonist of our own life drama, and a character, a supporting actor in the lives of everyone we meet. That is everyone and includes the beggar I look away from as well as the dancing six year old, curly haired little girl holding hands with her mom while returning my smile as we pass each other on the downtown sidewalk.
From time to time this way of thinking about our lives summons our attention and we wonder, who is writing this script? Who is directing it? Who is the producer?
As a species, our religious history is full of answers. Tribe after tribe and culture after culture has offered the answer to this question. Pascal Boyer, in his book Religion Explained, presents a wonderful treatment of this question.
For myself, for the ever changing now, I enjoy living in the following construct. Our lives are opportunities for as long as we have them, to manifest what we call “our self” on this stage in a variety of ways, all them rooted in the discipline of the arts. Life itself is the master medium. We are co-authors, producers, and directors of our lives; co-authored with the universal reality of creativity, and co-authored and acted with the people we encounter, work with, and love.
However. Much of what we are born with embedded in our brains, is a bit out of date and needs revising to meet the needs of a world that has become, through our own doing, very different from the caves and jungles that witnessed our birth. It is a different world from what what we learned about in our families and in the school yards of our childhood. It is different from what we learned in our neighborhood, it is different from what our cultures have taught us to believe.
If we are to to live into our potential as caring, thoughtful creatures, we must learn how to rewrite our script. It is not easy. I am now, and have been for quite a while, engaged in that task. I cannot predict, nor avoid my exit scene. Nor can you. Of that, there is no question. But until then, ah yes, until then, we are each responsible for what roles we choose, and how we choose to play them, and for me, there is no question about that.