This weekend was arranged around the centerpiece of my play opening, Barefoot in the Park. I played the lead male role and I had not been on a stage in eight years. In that time many things have occurred in my life, many of which I mourn and some of which celebrate. In the past two years, however, my life has been somewhat of a tempest, throwing me and my ship through waves and waves of uncertainty, change, and at times, wreckage. At times the only tangible life raft I had to keep myself centered were my two boys, and I am very aware that children should never be a life raft. Sometimes that is what you do, because that is all you have.
These past two months have been no less tumultuous, strenuous, or joy-filled sometimes even more so….but in the middle of it all, I had found myself again and in the process, I found myself humbled by the support network I had built. Two years ago, I maybe had one friend who I considered somewhat close. But while talking to my sister who lives in Alabama about who was coming and when, she made the comment, “Damn, brother, you are blessed.” And she was right. And this slice of life, is not to make that blessing negligible or diminish it, its just a slice of life story for another day. But today’s story is one of person who I will never meet.
“How many are in the crowd?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I heard we haven’t even cracked double digits, yet,” another replied.
“Well, it is opening night and Friday,” yet another chimed.
“I have two that I know of coming,” I stated trying to get the others to start tallying their own.
“I have one, my husband,” an actress offered.
But there was little after that, just some supposes and some possiblys, but we talked ourselves into a “this is good, we don’t need a large crowd on opening night” dismissal of the fact that we love crowds. The show went pretty well giving us the confidence that tomorrow would be even better and that so would the crowd size.
I had heard a few chuckles that night, some muted laughter…someone not wanting to be the only one in eight to guffaw or giggle. So it was very difficult to gauge whether our performance went over well. I did have my partial slash subjective relatives there but without that vocal feedback of raucous crowd laughter, to what degree you did well is more difficult to ascertain.
Then the next day, a day in which I was certain there would be a much improved crowd size and quality, a lady who worked backstage pulled me aside.
“David, may I talk to you for a second,” she asked carefully and with a tone of admission.
“Sure, thing Sue,”I said, still running my lines through my head. Sooo much that I had only caught up at the part of her story at which point she began saying…
“…so her friend brought her here last night to get away for a night. It gets hard, you know, taking care of your husband, day and night, knowing its only a matter of time. And she’s older, but not that old indeed. Anyway, she told my friend, the one who brought her, who wonderful the play was and how grateful she was to be able to pull away from the things going on in her life, you know, with her husband all, but to see some joy and laugh. It was really great for her.”
Stopped. I stopped. My ears felt deaf. My pulse took over and I remembered a passage from one of my most cherished books of all times, J.D. Sallingers’ Franny and Zooey. It’s a beautiful book and I suggest you read it. I refuse to give it away too much so I’ll need to put all of this in my own words. Anyway, in Franny and Zooey, we are reminded that no matter what we do in this world, whether we do our best to put on a show or film a movie, to plan lessons for a group of 5th graders, cook dinner for our kids, or just listen to a friend, we should do everything as if we are doing it for that audience of one. That person who you don’t know (or even if you do). For that person, who might not do much for themselves or might be constantly doing things for others.
See no matter the size of the crowd, whether the are faces in the seats or faceless numbers on a spreadsheet, everything we do as humans can be boiled down to goods and services. We are always providing others with something. There are times when you might hate what you do, or feel angry about the kind of work you are doing. But somewhere, sometime, what you did to day is going to impact the future of someone else. That can be something you see or something you never hear, but you are constantly bumping up and rubbing elbows with those faceless people who value you and what you did deeply.
So go out there, make your life your stage, dance and hum that little ditty that once made you move like you were 20 years younger. Its okay. You have an audience of one, and you just may give that one, everything he or she needed.