My junior year of high school we staged a production of a student written play called “Peace of Mind.” It centers around Robert Rosenthal, a man in a coma attempting to (here it comes!) find peace of mind about his life. The characters represented his memories and his overall doubts about whether or not he’d done enough with his life, or made his life a story. Here’s a thirty second clip of the intro:
How do you write a story about life and death without being trite or cliché?
Alan Ball knows: he created Six Feet Under.
The most surprising thing about death is that it isn’t some menacing skeleton in a black hooded kaftan. Death is a kid: far away yet imminent and always omnipresent.
For some people death is a child impatiently tugging at the hem of their pant leg or dress, asking in that annoyed tone: “Can we go now?”
Sometimes it’s across a restaurant, with the frazzled woman quickly escorting her wailing baby out of the crowd. For a second you think: “Someday that could be me.” Or maybe: “That will never be my life.”
Other times it’s old photo albums in your mom’s house or even just one picture of a you that you can’t remember being. Maybe you don’t really believe it when you see it because you’ve gotten so used to the concept of a memorable you that anything else seems impossible. You remember five years old and nap times in Mrs. Dreese’s preschool classroom. You remember seven and skinned knees. You remember thirteen and all that attitude. If you think about it enough, you can even remember how much you loved that t-shirt with the elephants and balloons when you were three.
But baby you is only believable because there’s proof that it happened and because you’ve seen it happen with others. Little brothers or sisters or new babies next door who grow and talk and learn and follow the same general path that you did prove that everyone comes from the same place and heads in the same direction.
What does make a life a story? Is it crossing off items on your to-do list or learning to play an instrument?
Or, it’s just living.
Maybe it’s a coke at three in the morning because you feel like it, sharing jokes from South Park and searching Google images for pictures of cartoon sea animals wearing top hats.
Maybe it’s deciding to re-watch a cartoon and not read that book, taking a walk at six in the morning and snapping pictures on a camera that may or may not be working.
Maybe it’s always watching that Christmas special in December or maybe it’s new traditions with new family members.
Or, maybe it’s saying I love you when you say goodbye.
Be happy, be loved, be hopeful and be alive.
Learn your lessons then forget them all until you spend four weeks watching an HBO series.
Say thank you for every moment that you gave too much or too little. Say thanks for every moment that you repeated your mistakes, then learned. Say thank you for every moment that you were wrong and that someone showed you what was right. Say thank you for those years of angst, bad skin and even worse haircuts. Say thank you for those black and white beginnings that still appear in Technicolor for the most important people in your life.
Thank you skinned knees and fractured hearts. Thank you teenage melodrama and the calm after the storm. Thank you checked and unchecked ambition. Thank you dreamy hope. Thank you disappointment. Thank you jealousy. Thank you love. Thank you peaches. Thank you kiwis.
Thank you beginnings.
Thank you new days.
“You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone”
Thank you Six Feet Under for the reminder.
(And thank you to my roommate, Chad, who left the box set behind over break)