Aisle Of Wit

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When Tragedy Begets Inspiration

Since I’ve started this way of sharing myself with the world I’ve been brutally honest about what I believe I’ve had to endure historically and as of late.  Sometimes my despair gets the better of me.  My despair is literally an angstrom unit of a fraction of the level these people whose story I will share have had to endure in the last 365 days.

My sister’s besties come from a Broadway theatre background.  Two Thanksgivings ago I had the extreme pleasure of sharing one of the last meals my wife and I both sat at the same table for with the patriarch of that family, a seemingly frail older gentleman with a caretaker who reminded me of my dad in his last years.  I chose to sit on his side of the table; he was sadly being ignored by the majority of the large group assembled for what has turned out to be one of the last large family meal gatherings I have attended since (damn you yet again, COVID-19).  This otherwise unassuming older man turned out to have been a significant part of several Broadway shows of the 60s and 70s.  He knew actors, producers and New York elite.  He regaled me with stories of how he partied with many far richer and familiar people at haunts like Sardi’s.  He had had a life that many dream of, and I’d like the believe the chance he was allowed to share some of those stories with me helped what turned out to be his last Thanksgiving a little more fun.

He spoke eloquently of his oldest grandson, who wasn’t at the table that day.  Turns out this young man was far more inspired by him.  He was a theatre major, determined to extend his family’s passion into another generation.  He had starred in several productions in high school and college,  My sister’s family was frequently in the crowd, kvelling to his appreciable talent.  I’ve seen a few of his performances; trust me, he was real good.  Yes, I said was.

A year ago today this 22 year old protege was killed in a car accident on a slick road in central New Jersey.

Over the last year his father has been particularly candid about sharing his grief.  He regularly posts on Facebook of how virtually everything he experienced in a year of distancing reminded him of his son.  He shared those performances.  He gave others the chance to be in the limelight, including my otherwise private sister and brother-in-law.  They spoke at this young man’s memorial service, one of the few times they ventured out of their homes during the first surge of the pandemic,  I watched on zoom as she shared the depth of their connection, which I stupidly never knew.  Turns out he and my niece were BFFs since birth, he was a cool older brother and inspiration to my nephew.  Masks and small screen notwithstanding, I could see how wet and dark their eyes were that day.  It was compelling video, and it sure wasn’t scripted.

Over the year the young man’s college, which he was scheduled to graduate from last summer, established a fund in his memory to help support other young actors. When his father asked for contributions, no matter how much financial stress I was in I felt an urge to give something to this fund.  Of course, I gave $36–in Judaism, giving a monetary gift in multiples of $18 is considered an extra level of good luck.  Double chai, or $36, is seen as a particularly benevolent act.  You bet I donated, and it’s a recurring gift at that.

I can’t possibly know the pain of losing a child, as I have none of my own.  I can’t even stand the loss of a friendship from someone very much alive and, to be sure, not as talented as this young man was.    The dad, as well as his daughter who is now pursuing an acting career of her own  at her own college, continue to share their emotions, memories and, most of all, their determination for better days.  I’m an emotional wreck every time I finish reading one of his writings.  But I know I’m a better man for having done so.  And it sure gives me renewed strength to deal with my own crap.

Out of respect for this family I won’t publicly divulge this young man’s name, but I will share the name of his college.  I’ve made sure to repost their logo on the mask they sent me as a thank you several times herein so you know the name of that school.  It’s a new year, and we all could use a tax writeoff.  Message me privately and I’ll share the name of the fund in his memory.  I will share this post with his dad and I will leave it up to him how public he wants to be beyond this.  I don’t think I’m breaking any confidentiality in sharing this much.  Even if you just donate to their theatre department without the effort of outreach (selfishly, I still hope you will; I need the traffic) I believe you’ll honor his memory and resilience.

Oh, and one more thing.  I’ve been particularly emotional about the importance of physical contact to me, particularly as the Omicron wave has renewed many people’s obsessions with “staying safe out oif an abundance of caution”.  It is always jarring when people recoil with panic in their eyes when I even attempt a handshake, let alone a hug,  What I remember most about that 2019 Thanksgiving besides the war stories of hard it was to produce CACTUS FLOWER was how much hugging went on at that dinner.  I needed it then, and I need it far more now.  I think it’s accurate to assert that the young man’s parents, brother and sister need hugs waaaaay more than me this week.  If you can send them virtual hugs, do so.  If you physically encounter them, make it a priority.

If you know anyone who is in any kind of pain as we slog through into a new year at last, I can’t stress enough how much I pray you summon the strength to take your arms and your fingers and wrap them around that person’s back if you consider them “safe” enough to hug this week.  If you need someone to show proof of vaccination, do that.  If you need to mask up, do that, too–the Muhlenberg number here is remarkably comfortable and will fit nicely over a surgical blue that now has become the recommended minimum (please don’t get me started on how much I believe the medical supply industry is donating to politicians to get this renewed plea for “well-fitting” masks to now fit into the “guidelines”, thus making a mask like Muhlenberg’s to be considered insufficient unto itself). Wear gloves.  Wear a hazmat suit if you must, for pete’s sake.  Hug someone.  Hug a pet.  Hug a damn wall if you’re that scared, dammit.  Pretend the wall is someone who really, REALLY needs connection.  Envision this family first and foremost.  Then envision me.

Until next time…