On Love, Loss, and Nelson Mandela
I started my day in conversation with Sarah Bellamy (a true blessing in its own right) about Penumbra Theatre Company and being able to live in a time where we can directly name the work we're doing around advocacy, social change, and eliminating racism in the theater. I am also sitting with the mourning and celebration of Nelson Mandela's life, work and legacy. He is a living testament to a time, space and energy when the fight for freedom came at a profound cost, but he lived long enough to see powerful change as a result of his efforts. Many of our own civil rights leaders and freedom fighters were not granted that grace. Of course, there is more work to do in many areas including theatre.
My conversation with Sarah also allowed me to engage more deeply with a series of personal losses that have happened over the past year or so ... which resulted in this morning meditation...
Growing up in Tennessee Colony was difficult. Racism, prejudice and attitudes toward poverty have done much to damage my self-esteem, optimism, sense of wonder and enthusiasm for life. Daily, I am reminded of the work needed to nurture my spirit. I don't always win, but having dear friends and a supportive family is a salvation.
Over the course of the last year or so, I have lost three people who have loved me for most of my life. These people were my god parents, Debbie and James, both to cancer, and a dear family friend, Alan, who we lost on Wednesday to a heart attack.
All three were friends of my father and mother. I loved speaking on the phone to Debbie and James when I was little. They lived in upstate New York and only visited a couple of times to my recollection. So, it was special to know that someone, who lived so far away, cared about me and wanted to talk to me. I was penpals with their daughter for a long time. Also, I have many treasured childhood memories in the home of Alan and his wife Mary. Playing on their living room floor, going on fishing trips, eating and laughing together, and watching them in friendship with my parents.
I remember asking my father once, "Why do they love us and want to spend so much time with us? Why do they love me?" They weren't family and so I didn't understand. Also, I had never met anyone on my mother's side of the family and so learned early that bloodlines don't automatically assume love. He explained, "They love you because you're you and you bring them happiness."
To be loved by someone outside of your bloodline for simply being you and perhaps for the joy you bring to their lives is a wondrous experience. To lose that love is equally challenging.
All of which led me back to Mandela Nelson, a man who was loved and admired by so many. I am one of those people. I was inspired by his fight for freedom and humbled by his commitment to peace and reconciliation. His spirit drives the work that I do around Diversity and Inclusion in the American Theatre. It's hard to contextualize all that I'm experiencing right now, but I want to thank Madiba for his life's work. I want to thank those who believed in me, even when I didn't believe in myself. I want to move forward in service. Thank you for all who give me the opportunity to do so.
James E Lawton Jr
12/6/2013 04:26:45 am
So true are the words written here and to be spoken would make the bells of truth and love ring louder than any voice could ever speak.
12/7/2013 01:21:57 am
I would have never guessed you felt that way when we were kids. I loved the fact that I could call you a friend growing up. I was white, not rich- but not poor and yet I felt prejudice everyday. I could never be me in that town. Maybe that is why I left. But your confidence was the most amazing thing I witnessed in my time there. Also when I look at that time I think of your mom and how kind she was to me. She may not know it but she has a very special place in my heart. I've spoken of her many times in the last 17 years. I'm so proud for you that you live so passionately to make change in this world. You will forever be a blessing on my life, and I just wanted you to know.
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!