Friday, January 31, 2014

#13: No Traveller Returns

Catherine Friesen (right)
My Facebook page has been filled with death lately. Friends have shared posts about loved ones who have died or are assumed to be on the road to that place a little sooner than the rest of us. Catherine Friesen, who passed away on Monday from pancreatic cancer, played Hamlet this past fall. I would've loved to have seen her Hamlet. Catherine was a surprise actor; she had such a quiet, unassuming, and gentle soul, so that those who didn't know her would never suspect that she was one--which made her the best of actors. I only saw her onstage once, years ago, but I could feel that she had become her character. Catherine had truly disappeared.

I had a hard time sleeping last night, so I read Hamlet's famous soliloquy several times in her honor:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

At the same time, I have learned of (or recalled) suicides, and for a good 48 hours or so, I was really pissed off at those who have chosen to end their mortal coil, while others have been fighting tooth and nail to get a few more days or hours or seconds of this life. How can someone throw away the one surety we have in this world: life itself? It is such a selfish act.

I say this knowing of the demons that lurk in the mind, the soul, the gut. I say this knowing there have been dark times in my own life when I have wondered at the point in seeing one more day. Honestly, the only thing that kept me was Hamlet's confessed cowardice. My own selfishness has kept me from crossing that line, not care for those I'd leave behind.

I was also angry at the people that fill the world with hatred and ugliness who live to be a ripe old age, while so many gentle souls, like Catherine or another of my passed-on New York friends, Linda Hood, are gone too soon. I was angry that the roulette of the world landed on Catherine and Linda but whizzed past those who have no intention to bring love.

Somewhere after those 48 hours, I had a small epiphany: I cannot control what others do; I can only control what I do. I cannot control what life deals us; I can only control how I encounter it. 

I've known these things for years, but I don't think I've truly known them until this past week. And now that I know, I must act accordingly.

I'm still angry that Catherine is gone. I'm still furious about those who choose death. I feel endless sorrow for who've died or will die before they ought. I acknowledge fear about what happens after this breath. Yet somehow I feel more comfortable with my anger and fear.

As Horatio says: Now cracks a noble heart. Horatio honors the pain. Horatio acknowledges the too-soon-ness of the moment. But he lets it go as well: Good-night sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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