Sunday, November 20, 2011

When the Performance Stops

Life’s all about performance. Performing in school. Performing at work. Performing in social situations. We even have high-performance products (read: the best). I’ve spent thousands of hours of my life on stage, in school and professionally. I have lectored and sung in the choir. I know performance.

Like every performer, I know the feeling when the performance ends. The letdown after graduation. (I got so drunk, man!) Career. (A gold watch? That’s it?!) New Year’s Eve party. (Pass the Pepto-Bismol.)

Last night I had a dream, two dreams that I remember, actually—one about performance, one not.

In the first dream, I was standing in the pulpit to deliver a homily. I don’t know, maybe I was a deacon. The pulpit was very high, reached by a wide spiral staircase, and it looked out on an outdoor church, or maybe a bombed-out one, where the rear of the nave opened onto a sunlit field. The only person that I know was in the pews was our pastor, Father Barnes.

I looked down at the lectern in front of me and there were some papers, notes, what looked like a multiple-choice quiz with none of the answers filled in, and a laminated folder, which should have contained my homily but was empty. I shuffled these documents with a growing sense of unease, of emptiness. I did not know what to say, and the documents didn’t tell me. I was on stage—in a manner of speaking—and I was at a total loss.

I have had many theater dreams in my life. They usually involve being late for the performance or not being able to find my costume during a quick change and—well—going onstage naked. Those are panic dreams, and I usually wake up believing that I am still late, still without a costume.

But this dream was different. As reality settled over me—I had nothing to say—I looked out into the nave or onto the field, and calmly gestured to Father Barnes as if to say, Take over, Skipper. He rose and approached the pulpit, and as he climbed the spiral staircase and I descended past him, he gestured to an armchair under the pulpit as if to say, Relax, no worries.

On the armchair was a cowbell, the kind herders hang from a lead cow’s neck to keep track of the pack. As I am a Bull, a cowbell is an appropriate, if ambiguous symbol. It is the sounding brass and clanging cymbal of animal husbandry.

I picked up the bell and I sat in the chair and I woke up in peace. The performance had stopped. I was alone beneath the pulpit, presumably listening to Father Barnes, always a pleasure. There was no panic, no sense of failure, only a deep inner peace from knowing that there is something past performance, like humility. I awoke with that peace.

I mentioned having a second dream. This occurred at 4:45 when I got up. The first dream was closer to 2:15.

In my second dream, I was returning home from a Thanksgiving feast at my parents’ home, and I was saying good-bye to my father. As I hugged him good-bye, I noticed that he was wearing the fresh white button-down shirt he liked. He kept his arms at his sides, not hugging me back. That was OK. Like my cowbell dream, this one with Dad Bull left me at peace.

I told my Dad I would see him at Christmas. In fact, I haven’t seen him for four Christmases now. I miss him every day.

Dad was love. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

My younger daughter is coming home for Thanksgiving today, and on Wednesday we will be reunited with our other daughter and her boyfriend for a family celebration, a vegan Thanksgiving, our second in a row. Have I told you that both of my daughters are vegan? Although I love bacon, I will hug both of my daughters back, since I still can.

The performances come and go. The love, the silence, remains.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have trouble posting comments, please log in as Anonymous and sign your comment manually.