Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
–Macbeth, Act V, scene v
Morose sentiments notwithstanding, the life’s work of he who penned these lines is testament to a profound conviction in Life’s significance!
Using props, “business,” and dialog, theater tells a story. But hiding in plain sight, on the chairs and sofas, beneath the strutting and fretting, driving the sound and fury, is an essence making valid theater compelling.
As always, Shakespeare’s metaphor is spot on. Life is theater. We have props. Oh, do we have props! Life’s props are “Stuff”–I’ve expressed my feelings about “Stuff”–sofas, chairs, clothes; cars, locomotives, Space Stations; lap-tops, cell phones, TV’s. In no small measure our props, our stuff, defines who we are. And the “busy-ness!” Oh, the busy-ness: scurrying, speeding, scheming, working, playing, fighting, killing, rarely still. And dialog? Oh, do we talk. Life’s dialog, or for some of us more precisely, monologues, puts the cumulative words in the Library of Congress, the world’s libraries, every book ever written, to shame. Live or in writing, as testified here, monologue may be my greatest sin. If memory serves, Robert Service wrote, “No doubt the Devil grins at these seas of ink I splatter. God forgive my literary sins. The other kind don’t matter.”
Life’s props, business, and dialog bring to mind Blaise Pascal, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
My dad was manager and lineman for a Rural Electric Association (REA) Co-op in northeast Utah. Friday, April 13th, 1945–yes, Friday the thirteenth!–he went out to repair a power outage at the Hanna Store, climbed a utility pole, and touched a seventy-two kilovolt line. A few hours later, Mama told Judy and me, “We don’t have a Daddy any more.” Ten days after my eighth birthday.
Bereft of one of the most important people in life, for over two decades I was a ship without a rudder. School grades were mediocre. I played lead in a half-dozen plays, co-edited the yearbook, was the fastest kid at South Emery High, and graduated with no clue to a future.
Lacking a reliable male model, from bits and pieces I cobbled together what a man seemed to be. With a Bachelor’s from Brigham Young, I spent three miserable years in the United States Army, then moved to Alaska. Despite good friends and a good-enough life, around age thirty I thought, “If I died now, I’d look back and say, ‘What the hell was all that about?'”
Dr. Eugene Chernell, a Psychiatrist, said, “I don’t want you to flush you life down the tube.” The man saved my life. Thanks to Dr. Chernell’s brilliance, I married Karen, became a successful Registered Professional Land Surveyor, raised Bryan, Dawn, and Marty, earned a Master’s in Psychology, volunteered for over thirty years at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families, ran over a hundred and sixty races, seven marathons. Thanks to Dr. Chernell’s, Karen’s and my work, after eight decades on planet Earth life is good.
So what’s this hide-in-plain-sight thing the Bard and even poor Macbeth knew, what true artists know, what Dr. Chernell knew, what I lost sight of when Daddy died? What, thanks to a man’s wisdom and love, I recaptured?
It’s the absolutely vital piece, the often–perhaps too often–unnoticed piece behind Life’s Comedy and Tragedy. It moves genuine theater beyond mere entertainment and makes Life not “a tale told by and idiot”?
Relationship! Life is significant; people matter! It’s the push-me and pull-you, the confusion and conflict, the agony and joy, the love and hate, that comes from living with human beings. What matters, what really matters, and ironically makes me most happy, is caring for other people’s wellbeing, their happiness, loving them almost as much as myself. Human relationship makes theater worth watching and Life worth living!