By their extravagant spirits, they draw us
From the safe borders
And into the center of the center ring
There they urge dance upon our
And to our sullen hearts,
— Maya Angelou, American Poet Laureate (d. 2014)
Two months ago, Rabbi Joshua Boettiger guided us through a careful consideration of death and the afterlife, drawing on the dialogue between Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) in On Heaven and Earth, which captures their conversations. Rabbi Joshua reminded us of a powerful existential truth: We get glimpses of an afterlife “when we are most alive and attuned to G-d and to one another.”
Rabbi Joshua’s thinking on death and the afterlife spurred my own reflections. It dawned on me that the “connective tissue” between this life and the next, between heaven and earth, is love.
The haunting mystery of death provokes deep feelings, thoughts, and even fears. I have been asking myself, "What would make death more of a welcome guest than a feared grim reaper?"
There may another key "leg" to the three-legged stool supporting us to face the reality and inevitability of death. Besides living in attunement with G-d and one another, and being brave enough to love, there is the crucial importance of our legacy — what we leave behind.
Rabbi Skorka captures this issue poignantly. "For those of us who believe that to be human is sublime ..., death is not just the dissolution of the self, but is a challenge to leave an inheritance for our children, our students and all those around us. As opposed to a material inheritance, it is a matter of spirituality and values."
Spirituality and values. The intangible, but most potent and lasting bequest.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is (yet again) leading the pack in theatrical innovation with this season's "UniSon": a musical by UNIVERSES, inspired by August Wilson's poetry.
A good friend, Bob Morse, wrote me about his experience at "UniSon."
"I’ve never before experienced poetry coming so alive, being simultaneously so personal and universal. I’ve never before felt allegory being so real, real being so painful, pain being so therapeutic.
"I’ve never before witnessed a theater troupe acting in each moment as one, in unison, in harmony.
"I’ve never before known the melding of media, the mixing of printed and spoken word, and the incredible use of backlighting to create an infinity of backdrops that forever matched and shaped the mood."
OSF's world premiere is all that Bob describes, and something more. It is a deep consideration of death and legacy.
In this unique co-creation and collaboration among art forms, a "Poet" (based on August Wilson, and not the same person) mentors a young poet. The Poet teaches through advice while alive, and through his private life writings, his poetry, after his death.
The apprentice learns much about the "demons" (the Seven Terrors) that haunted the Poet, and comes to appreciate how richly complex and wondrous the beloved Poet's artistic and human journey were.
Some dozen windows in the "UniSon" set display snippets from Wilson's poetry, along with multiple images through the play. The following words that Wilson spoke during an interview toward the end of his life are displayed toward the end of the play.
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”
Perhaps facing our demons and banishing them "with illumination and forgiveness" will indeed cause our angels to sing; will result in true "extravagance of spirit," and will urge dance upon our leaden feet. A legacy that will last.
— Daniel Murphy fosters human flourishing through positive life coaching in Ashland and beyond.