Empathy & The Unknown – Devising’s Life Lessons

photo - Bashar Al-Ba'noon, CC

photo – Bashar Al-Ba’noon, CC

I lost a dear friend yesterday. We grew up together. Tested out our identities together in those formidable years. We were each other’s third wheel at different times. When relationships would fall away, we were still friends laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

The mark was made on us. We could easily call b.s. on the other, even when years had passed. We knew how the other played the game. How he played, wasn’t how I played, and vice versa—to much arguing and teasing at times—but that was cool. Beyond cool, it was allowed, accepted, sometimes even admired.

Yesterday, he decided to leave the game.

He gave signs over the years that it was harder to have fun in the game. But there were no declarations of leaving or thinking of leaving.

And now, I feel his absence. His community feels his absence as we recall the varied and unique ways he contributed to the game of life we’re all playing.

I send love to all those still in the game that are now wondering:

   How do I play without him?

   Why did he leave?

   Will the game be fun anymore without his heart and talent here?

I am at peace with his decision.

That’s not true. Bullshit, he’d call me on that.

I’m at peace with his right to make that decision.

This is not an easy place to get to for me. I once came up to that moment myself, actively questioning in my early twenties whether to stay in the game. Funny enough, he was all on me about that, too. There for me, supporting my struggle and also prodding me to stay in the game.

He made a different choice yesterday. The irony is not lost on me. (If he were here, he’d make sure of that with loud, lovable berating). But I’m not pissed at him. I’m thankful for our 15-year friendship that laughably see-sawed between “I’d do that too” and “What were you thinking?!” Because collaborating with life choices between friends and devising art over the decades has helped me build up the strength and flexibility for just this moment and didn’t realize it.

Devising work—collaborating with people of all walks of life—is a daily practice in all of these questions. It is a consistent, joyful and painful exercise in observing your own process of playing, giving space for others to own theirs, needing other people, being vulnerable in our journey with and without them, and all this as we collectively head towards the unknown.

The unknown is usually the biggest kicker in the work. And coming from a recovering Type A-control freak-people pleaser, I know what I’m talking about here.

Death is the great unknown.

But devising, and practicing true connections in the moment, helps release the fear of the unknown. Release the need to control the uncontrollable. Release the need to assign blame and create shame.

All I can do is play the game to my fullest with vulnerability, awareness, and empathy. I cannot control why and how others play with me.

I also do not know how the absence of a beloved player will affect the game. But I am affected, that is certain.

Even in your absence, Dan, you are still changing lives. You are still inspiring art. You are still creating community.

Love and light to you, dear Grover. Start up the game on the other side, we will all be along in time.

Love,

Jess

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