Yesterday was Ann’s funeral. She died too young but by all accounts lived out loud – she packed a lot of life into her short time. One of the speakers said that she was neither a glass-half-empty nor a glass-half-full kind of person; her glass was always overflowing. I sat in the choir loft and listened to the stories, the grief and the laughter, the music that a community makes when it says good-bye. I only know her through their stories, through their eyes, and I was overwhelmed with the beauty that they saw in her. She was rooted in a community and the community was rooted in her. I was moved by the story she inspired.
Just before the service I was working on my play, The Lost Boy. We open in a few short weeks. I was memorizing the last two pages. The language of the play, the moment in the script that I worked, is about Tom’s ancestors answering his call. He worried about what to do with the ranch and the legacy that he guarded. He didn’t know what to do. There was no one to receive what he had to tell. He summoned the ancestors and, when he needed them most, they came. They didn’t answer his question. Instead, they took his hand and helped him join the story.
Jean Houston called us – the living – the burning point of the ancestral ship. Each of us carry forward the story, we add a chapter to a longer epic whether we realize it or not. Once, many years ago, John was directing one of Shakespeare’s plays for my company. While talking with the young actors about the play, he was moved to tears telling them how he realized that he was a link in a long chain that led all the way back to a first production in the 17th century. This play did not exist isolated in time. It was a burning point. Their work mattered because they were the guardians of a tradition. They were the burning point. The play was remarkable because the actors understood their root; even the smallest action mattered because if fed something bigger.
A few weeks ago we watched the film, The Descendants, with Brad and Jen’s movie group. It is a story of legacy and mattering – a story of what happens to descendants when everything looks like a commodity. The root withers. The story dissipates. As Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” Joseph Campbell said that our mythology was dead and all the proof we needed was in the news. It took me years to fully understand his statement. And, the question he asked was this: once lost can a community revive its mythology? Can it reconnect with the root? Can it look beyond the immediate and see the rich soil of the greater story? As the burning point, can we light the way forward or is our dilemma the same as Tom’s: what do you do when you carry a root-story and no one is interested or capable of hearing it?