The Only Goodbye
Lately, I find myself thinking about death, not just because I got to try to embody it in a film, but because it won't go away. It keeps showing up in my life and in the lives of the people I love. I lost a friend last week, this week someone very dear to me is saying goodbye to one family member while the loss of another is still so fresh... Me, I think I'm doing great one day and something will remind me of Bob and I'll be a wreck all over again... I remember the day I got the news about him. I was in Seattle. He was in Florida. My sister was in a plane flying back from NYC to Seattle. I realized that she would get off the plane and be alone and get the news over the phone, like I did. So I wanted to go to Sea-Tac to tell her myself. On the way down, I stopped in West Seattle to commiserate with Rik and Patrick. They were wonderful, as were their wives and Kio and Eric, who didn't even know they'd be attending a mini-wake. They helped me relax and laugh and for a little while It felt better. But an hour later I was on the road, sad, angry, and apprehensive and gunning it as I came off the ramp and on to the freeway with a shot of Cuervo in my belly. The road was wet and the driver in front of me must have been skittish. He hit the brakes just as he was about to merge into the 60mph traffic.
I was still a good 20 yards behind him but when I braked to slow down and avoid the other driver, I must have hit a slick spot on the wet road. I felt my back wheels start to sway out from behind me and tried to correct but I must have been going faster than I realized and went into a spin. I was on the right hand side of four lanes of traffic. I was locked in a clockwise spin and whipping left across all the traffic at the end of rush hour. Once around, twice... like I was in the Scrambler ride at Coney Island. My life didn't flash before my eyes... but I was pretty sure this was it. I was going to die in a car wreck and probably take somebody with me... stupid, stupid, goodbye, I'm so sorry.
...and then it was over. One more half a spin and my foot on the brake brought me to a rest against the concrete barrier in the carpool lane... facing the wrong way. No smoke, no crushed metal, no innocent bystanders caught up in my train wreck. I was alive and safe. I didn't even need a tow truck. There was an opening in the traffic, so I took a breath, put the Acme in gear and got on my way. I still had a job to do. I was thanking God that my sister only had to lose one of us that day.
In our film, our "Death" has a heart and a soul. In one scene, he comes to visit a woman working in her garden, thanks her for all the beauty she has brought into the world and gently takes her soul.
The woman on the right is Andy Stein. She plays the Gardener. The woman on the left is Michelle Dean. She's our Assistant Director (who should consider a second career as a casting agent, considering all the amazing people she brought us).
In this picture, Death is touching her. That's when I take her soul and life leaves her body. When we shot this, we needed Andy to go limp and let me gently guide her to the ground. We played Death as a being with an intrinsic love and respect for the people he handles (mostly). So when Andy went limp, I would take her weight, just like I would if we were dancing or if we were sparring and rolling on the ground, knowing exactly where I wanted her to end up and getting her there safely. We must have done it a dozen times.
At one point, Andy looked up at me and said "Thank you for cradling me so nicely. I have a bad back and I'm worried about it". It really hit me that I had stumbled into a metaphor for how we take care of each other in our lives and at the end of them. We can't stop each other from dying, we can't make it any easier for us to take. but we can make it easy on them. We can cradle them. We can offer them our love, whether they are aware of it or not. That may be the only moment we get with them. The only goodbye. That has to be enough. I wish I had had it with Bob. But I know that he went on his way quickly. When Death took him, he played it like I would have. I'm grateful for that.
Here's a piece from the great Dave Barry about saying goodbye. I fell in love with it years ago and sometimes use it for auditions. But lately it hits me in so many ways...