I have a genuine question for you: What if I suddenly died today? I don’t take death lightly, despite its inherent levity and spaciousness, so please know that I mean this; I’m really asking. Take a few breaths, a few minutes, and give it some thought.
All of my questions here are rhetorical; I’m not fishing for validation. I’m not seeking a reaction at any level, nor am I curious about any post-death logistics to which you might attend. Humor me with my own self-assessment. I ask this “what if” in a deeper sense. If you’re someone who’s been in regular or semi-regular or even one-time contact with me, you have the opportunity to compare the time(s) you’ve experienced “me” to this hypothetical absence.
Imagine the world and your goings-on without my physical presence, despite all our plans to connect tomorrow, next week, etc. Imagine you received a note somehow from my family, or more likely, you learned about my death through social media or another informational grapevine. How would that news sit with you? What would you do? Would it matter to you? Again, I invite you to take this moment to reflect, and I invite you to keep your responses to yourself.
What’s been the specific ripple effect from me to you, if any? What have I added to your life, if anything? Would my death (this hypothetical, unexpected change to your list of friends) possibly inspire you to do or say something previously verboten, seek an untrod path, finally make a big what-if decision, or discover a new perspective? I’m sincerely curious about this field of impact. I’m surveying my work.
Huh. What is this game, this George Bailey mic check? Naturally, I’m thinking about all the farewells I’ll issue in the coming weeks as I pack and prepare for departure. I’m removing myself from the Pacific Northwest, from every place and every community I’ve ever known and understood and found comfort within. So, in a way, it is a death. An end. Like all ends, this, too, is one that transforms into new beginnings. Who knows how temporarily or permanently this geographical change will play out? I certainly don’t.
I’ve uttered a fair share of difficult and surprise goodbyes in the past four months, not to mention throughout the past 23 years, at least. I was in sixth grade when my eighth grade choir classmate drowned in her bath due to a seizure. More recently, in October 2018, I learned of the deaths of three incredible humans in my life via Facebook (literally one per week), all quickly followed by two additional major life “losses” of different forms. Two weeks ago, my 94 year-old grandfather (one of the two main characters of my solo show The Two-Step) died after an extended decline with dementia. In the week prior to his death, I fully faced his decaying body and mind, a very new experience for me. I held his hands and sang his favorite melodies to him one last time. I whispered encouragements of “You can let go now,” in spite of my longing for him to lead me in just one more dance.
What if _______ died today? Quickly consider this for any and every seemingly incidental person who’s crossed paths with you. Or maybe just go straight to the list of your closest beloveds, maybe in the two or three tightest concentric circles beyond your immediate family (chosen or biological). Would you carry yourself any differently if one of these beloveds suddenly died or became otherwise removed from your day-to-day routine? If so, do you currently make an effort to communicate their life’s impact while they’re regularly visible and available to you, as they exist now?
My aunt’s sudden death in March 2008 spurred my immediate family members to start saying “I love you” at the end of every phone call and upon every parting, even for a quick run to the store. When Christy Duffy died in February 2009, barely an hour after she stood next to me at the school, a fellow preschool parent sent a message of grief to the “info” email address (my inbox, as office manager) with this note: “We’re all hugging each other a little tighter today.” Chris Stagg’s death in early October propels me to continue his incredible work of filling the world with harmony, peace and acceptance. Compassion. Laughter. Light.
If you, dear reader, are one of the people who’ve declared how much you’ll miss me when I leave Seattle, I ask: WHY. Why do you say that? What does that really mean to you? What would be “missing” of my physical absence, and what will remain for you of my energetic or impressionistic presence in your life and/or way of life? (Believe me, I’m working with how and why I’ll miss you, and investigating what exactly that is per person, and if it’ll exist in another form while I’m across an ocean). Isn’t it so curious how much of an impact the smallest, simplest thing can carry?
And if in the rare chance you surround yourself with people whose deaths wouldn’t affect you, I ask: WHY. I constantly ask this of myself. I’m actively narrowing down and chiseling out a sculpture of community members who matter immensely to me. I want to buoy my life with that level of intention and inspiration. Within an incredible pod, while there’s care and unconditional support, this community offers a raw challenge of open honesty. I’m required to check my ideas, my behavior, my actions, my words, my emotional reactions on a regular basis. I want to push beyond complacency so I can evolve and connect more deeply within myself and to those willing participants of my immediate sphere of influence.
This life is shockingly brief, so let’s fill it with substance and meaning and movement — movement of the soul.
Let’s dig in.