Some of you know my almost obsessive love of all things Anna Deavere Smith. Last year her new play, "Let Me Down Easy" about the health care system and the power and resilience of the body, had it's longest run in NYC. I saw it three times. It is now at Arena Stage in D.C. and I am waffling about taking the Acela down there to see it again. Anna, like I know her, right, takes the words of people she interviews and re-creates them word for word onstage. Check her out here and here if you are not familiar, but you're my friend, so how could you NOT be familiar, right?!
Toward the end of the play "Let Me Down Easy" Anna portrays Rev. Peter Gomes, American preacher and Professor at Harvard's Divinity school. He speaks about being present in the moment when someone dies. And he advises us, his listeners, to "Cherish, the moment." I've heard Anna remark on this comment on Bill Moyers, that cherishing the moment may be a rather difficult thing for us to do in the moment of grief. We are not able to step outside ourselves and see this person's passing to another realm, or simply into eternal unconsciousness, as something we can cherish. Webster defines cherish as:
a : to hold dear : feel or show affection for
b : to keep or cultivate with care and affection : nurture
: to entertain or harbor in the mind deeply and resolutely
I love the progression of time in this definition. We first hold the moment dear, we show and feel affection for it. Over time we keep it and cultivate it with care and affection until it is harbored deeply and resolutely in our mind. It is a part of us. The seamless tapestry that makes us who we are.
My life is a series of cherished moments. That is how I define myself and that is how I will remember myself at the moment of my passing. Moments. Snippets of film from the story of the life of Keisha. The ones that show up are the ones that I have held onto for my entire life. The moments I cherish. So when I stand in this moment and look back over my life, why is it that there are less than wonderful moments that show up? Do I cherish those too? Do I cherish loss and disease and death? Do I cherish betrayal and cruelty and violence? Do I cherish hatred and pain? I must because I have held them close to me and have harbored them deeply and resolutely in my mind. I have fed them a steady diet of attention so that they stay buried in there with the wonder. And I will not deny that those moments of despair have also molded me into the woman I am today. Either by getting through them and triumphing or reminding me that I still have work to do. But I no longer feel the need to "cherish" these moments, rather examine them.
Wouldn't it be lovely if we could click on bad memories and bad feelings and drag them into the trash? Yes, Steve Jobs get on that! And I am trying to make peace with those feelings. To sit with them and "feel the feelings." To stay in the uncomfortable. And you know what? It actually works. For years, I have made fun of psycho-babble. And I cannot speak for other directives, but this one, sitting with the bad, works. I had a moment that I was holding onto tightly. Because letting it go would mean letting the person go. And I wasn't ready to do that. So, no matter how painful the memories, I held on tightly, like my life depended on it. And it did, because it kept me in a state of anger and frustration. I cherished that moment. And it became more than I could hold onto. So, I sat. I let whatever feelings I had about it come and go. I cried and hit things. But I kept sitting. This took quite some time. In between I cooked, slept, took care of the kids, did laundry. But always made sure to come back and sit with this moment. And to not runaway from the feelings that came up or the way it made me feel in that moment. And I sat and sat and sat. And then the other day I no longer needed to sit. I thought of the moment and I was calm. It was just another moment in my personal history and definitely not one I would be seeing at the moment of my death.
Completely incredulous that this worked! And seeing the results has turned me into some kind of crazy-door-knocking-prosleytizer for sitting with the bad. And the moment no longer holds anger and frustration for me. I can see it as something that helped me grow and fight harder for my life.
I can still see and hear Anna in my head saying this line. I wish I could give you an audio version, right now but check out the Bill Moyers interview I linked above and you will see what I mean. The emphasis is on Cherish. To hold it dear, to nurture it and then harbor it deep within you. And even the painful moments can be turned into something useful, for why would we remember them if they weren't? Some things we remember and others slip away as if they never happened. I tend to think that if it stays with me, with all that is in my head, then it has some significance and I cannot just pretend it doesn't exist. It stayed to teach me some lesson.
Our lives are a series of moments. Some good, some bad, some - no emotional attachment whatsoever. But if it lives with you then cherish each and every one of them.
in peace tribe and may you be well
Photo Credit:The Faster Times.com
Anna Deavere Smith as the Rev. Peter Gomes in "Let Me Down Easy."