By Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly
I recently re-read one of the last diary entries that my brother John wrote before his death in a mountain-climbing accident over a decade ago. In his almost indecipherable backhand – and in between lists of equipment, two-or-three-word observations on the climate in the mountains where he was, and reminders of appointments to be made or kept on his return – John wrote a cryptic note to himself: “Enjoy new challenges. All those years at MSJ and ALLCO [law firms] not for nothing.” My brother had been a high-flying lawyer: a wealthy man who, with the demise of the second of these firms, quit corporate law altogether to devote himself to contributing to the lives of young people who had not had the advantages his own children enjoyed. Within six months of this decision he was dead, the path of future plans stretching in the untrodden distance.
As I thought about John’s final diary entry, I was reminded of writers who’ve contemplated this inescapable human gate that we all must pass through. Four and a half centuries earlier, Michel de Montaigne wrote in On Death and the Art of Living:
Long life, and short, are by death made all one; for there is no long, nor short, to things that are no more… Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little. Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life.
In the mid 20th century Lorraine Hansberry says:
I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough and – I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.
David Whyte, in The True Love (1997) uplifts the courage to love in the face of death:
…we are all preparing for that abrupt waking and that calling and that moment when we have to say yes! Except it will not come so grandly, so biblically, but more subtly, and intimately in the face of the one you know you have to love. So that when we finally step out of the boat toward them we find, everything holds us, and everything confirms our courage.”
Courage to love: this is a gift, an achievement. Courage to know that you are worthy of love (though it may not be returned, or perhaps may last no longer than “the uncertain glory of an April day/ Which now shows all beauty of the Sun/ And by and by a cloud takes all away’ [The Two Gentlemen of Verona]). Love, Shakespeare knew, is not just about the transformative power of passion: love is endlessly resourceful, even moreso in the face of death. To love is one of the most beautiful and creative things we may ever do. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.
This blog post is dedicated to John Kelly d. 2010, Gabriel de Bono d. 2012.