We’re temporary, but part of something vast

Halloween stresses me out a little. I struggle putting clothes together for a normal day; I don’t have the creativity or skill to put a costume together.

 

I was telling my daughters about my hardest college class — costume design. We had to draw people and match clothes. My nightmare.

Keith Belli was our professor. He made the mistake of revealing to us that he hated the song “The Gambler,” so we sang it every chance we got. He had so much patience and somehow I made it through with lots of tears and an A. Never underestimate the power of pity.

I got to visit a dear friend from college during my recent whirlwind trip to the East coast. He made it possible for me to watch “Death of a Salesman” at Ford’s Theater. I almost balked because I imagined the play had to be dated. Arthur Miller wrote it in 1949, and it’s about the collapse of the American Dream.

It’s not dated. I wept through it. I should have brought tissues, because snot on sleeves is unacceptable at Ford’s.

It’s still a powerful commentary on the things we hang our lives and hopes on. One moment that stuck out so poignantly was Willy Loman saying, “I feel kind of temporary about myself.” Thankfully, when I was young we had a dark backyard and I had lots of time to lie there and stare at the vastness of the stars. Those were my crisis moments — and calming moments. The vastness made me critically aware of my temporality. It cured me of any illusions of grandeur; there is no proving oneself worthy in the face of such enormity.

In some ways, I think of those nights staring at the stars as my baptism. That’s when I died to any illusion my story was central and realized I was part of a much greater narrative. My choices have significance and consequences. The hurt and joy I bring do ripple throughout eternity, but the universe does not revolve around me. Willy Loman’s response to feeling “temporary” is standard American: buy stuff, worship your kids, isolate, pick fights, exaggerate your significance, bully those with less to make yourself feel greater, and, finally, despair. My tears during the play matched those of the father and son in front of me, so I didn’t feel so alone grieving this life we fall into so easily.

The gift of theater is letting us step back and see ourselves. We get to watch our stories, weep, laugh, wipe snot on our sleeves, and walk out a little more aware of how temporary we are in the vastness.

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