Geworfenheit

Funky word, right? It sounds like a second cousin of gesundheit. The Germans know how to take meaningful phrases and form them into a single word. I recently met up with the word geworfenheit and found it means “thrown into the world.”

Credit for this phrase goes to Martin Heidegger, an influential German philosopher of the last century. I do not pretend to be a philosopher or a student of philosophy, let alone an expert in Heidegger-speak, but the meaning of the word hit me hard. If we have been “tossed out” by the randomness of natural selection or cosmic arbitrariness or systematic favoritism, then what sort of effect does such pitiless disregard have on one’s soul?

It does not take a world pandemic for someone to feel the pain of isolation. It is a brute fact that many people go through life unnoticed or unattended, no one looking, no one caring. Many struggle just to feel alive on any level of heart and spirit.

However one approaches the reality of our existence—how we got here, what we’re doing here, where we’re going from here—we each must decide what we do with the time before us, who we might do it with, and for whom.

If we believe we are here to indulge our moods, create the conditions to achieve success for our self-interests, and muscle our way to the top of the heap, then being “thrown into the world,” is nothing more than a dog-eat-dog world-view; any “means” to justify the “ends.”

I do not accept the premise that I have been flung out into the world to live solely by my wits and to die by myself. I suggest we adopt a different phrase to live by: “love thy neighbor.” If we weigh risk vs. reward, then a life of loving one’s neighbor has the greatest reward. We are not “thrown into the world.” We should grasp the world, look into the eyes of those who come across our path, embrace and love them. There will be pain, but it can be shared and the burden can be light.

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My Stage Debut

I did not have to prepare an audition for my first role on the stage. I just had to be the right age (five), work for free, and the son of the producer, my father. It was a production of the Greek tragedy, “Medea,” and I played the younger son of Jason and Medea.

The play came in last in the competition at the Dionysia Festival when it premiered in 431 B.C. A mother’s fillicide as revenge against her husband’s infidelity was not acceptable behavior even to the Greeks back in the day. But it is a tragedy, and someone has to die. So I became the sacrificial lamb.

The death scene (thankfully carried out off stage), did not require a lot acting talent on my part. I just had to play dead on command. Just before the big “reveal,” my stage brother and I took our positions on the floor behind a closed door, and the stage manager poured ketchup all over our white togas. I remember vividly the door flying open, the stage lights flooding into the room where we lay, and the blood-curdling scream from the actor who played Jason when he beheld his dead sons. Trying to remain “dead” in that moment was my first big challenge as an actor. I wanted to jump up and run away.

Jason and Medea would not be put on the cover of today’s “Parents” magazine, but my parents did not seem concerned that this theatrical experience might scar me for life. While I might have suffered some nightmares from time to time, there was no permanent damage. I did not know it at age five, but the art of storytelling became firmly established in my psyche, and my artistic life had been determined.

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In The Beginning Was The Story

It is one of my earliest memories. I was four years old when I witnessed my father drinking, gambling, attempting a robbery, and then dying by his own hand from a knife thrust into his heart. I watched him die right before my eyes, and I had no ability to distinguish the degrees of the semblances of truth.

When Hamlet says, “…the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” he means that he will use a dramatic performance to test whether his uncle, Claudius, is guilty of murdering his father. And when Claudius sees the reenactment by the players, he flees the scene. When I saw the performance of my father’s death, I too fled the scene, whisked away in my mother’s arms, screaming.

Dad was playing the role of Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel.” Backstage after the show, I hurled myself into his arms sobbing in relief. That night Dad lay the instrument of his death on our dining room table; a rubber knife no longer than six or seven inches from blade tip to butt end. He even demonstrated how he used it.

This moment was a marvelous reality, one not fully explained or understood, nonetheless, irrefutably before me. I was an eyewitness to it all, and afterwards, I was tucked into bed by the one who had performed the feat. This was the mystery of storytelling, the story of my father, all-powerful, who could create such a wondrous illusion. My impressionable heart was frightened and awed by the experience of life, death, and resurrection. I did not know that these powerful themes would become foundational beliefs for life.

 

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Read more about the article Old Dog / New Tricks
Life is a Balancing Act

Old Dog / New Tricks

I am very slow to commit to technology that might improve my daily life. Living in a high-speed, full-scale digital cosmos does not appeal to me. I still use a flip-phone, and it has not been that long since I began to use the texting feature, though with reluctance. My reading material comes in hard copy form, not electronic. I shoot pool, play poker, and pinball (all poorly), not video games. I have an antennae on the roof that gets about a dozen free channels, four of which I watch. When people tried to get me to open a Facebook account so I could gain a couple of billion friends, my eyes glazed over.

I live like an animal, you say, but no more. This old dog decided he could learn a new trick or two. I not only had a website designed for my professional work, I also joined the world of Facebook. Now to all of you who know of my snarky attitude regarding social media forums (much like the snarky naysayers in the early days of television who considered the box of tubes a “vast wasteland”), I deserve all the slings and arrows of snide comments you care to throw at me. Be brutal. Be brutal. I accept the barbs.

But hold on. I have taken one more technological step in my journey from cave-dweller to enlightenment…the newsletter, delivered electronically courtesy of Mail Chimp. This will be the first of many to follow. One may rightfully consider that I have lost my mind, but since I love to write stories and explore ideas, perhaps this new forum may be a pleasant experience for us all.

So the slippery slope begins. And who knows? Sometime in the not too distant future, I may upgrade to an iPhone allowing me to do live feeds on Facebook. But don’t panic. My navigational skills in this wide, wide world of social media are still quite limited. And the beauty of Mr. Mail Chimp is that should you ever cry “uncle” from an over-consumption on my musing, you can always click that “Opt-Out” button.

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