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On Life's Golden Pond

He walks across the room, bellowing like the years have earned him that right. In this instance, they have. He's clad in a fishing hat, khaki jacket and with the wisdom of time. So, one expects that the first utterances you hear from him will be filled with insight and perspective. Patience. Except that for all of his sagacity, there's something major perplexing him. He can't seem to figure out what do with the daggone telephone.

"Hello?! Hello?! What do you want?" he asks the operator impatiently. Moments ago, he had her ring him to make sure the phone in his Maine summer phone worked. But seconds later, he forgot why someone would be calling him, just after he and his wife have arrived. A life with sunset nearing, it seems, can't be lost in the particulars.

This is how I met James Earl Jones this week, who with the wonderful Leslie Uggams, stars in the wonderful re-adaptation of "On Golden Pond" on Broadway's Cort Theatre. And, in this performance, Jones, the legendary baritone behind Darth Vader and "this is CNN" and winner of Tony awards for his past performances on the "Great White Way", very well could have been my late granddad.

His character, Norman Thayer, is English professor emeritus from the University of Pennsylvania. (My granddad, son of a sharecropper, was a Meharry graduate.) Norman is regal and his cadences hold on to familiar trills of the South. (Forthright in manner and speech was the only way the kind man born in Camp Hill, Alabama did it.) Despite his letters, Mr. Thayer has an impish way about him, admitting it only when his wife calls him on it. (I remember my granddad smirking as he tried to hide a piece of peanut brittle before dinner.) Norman finds his way when he goes fishing with his grandson. (My granddad drew his joy seeing us wide-eyed at his tales of battles with Indian chiefs or listening to him lend his earth shattering baritone to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"). If there is an award for playing a black grandfather to perfection, Jones gets a nod from me. (More of note for him, I'm sure, is that incidentally, he's deservedly up for a Tony.)

But his prowess and proximity to my granddad's way of doing isn't the entire reason the show affected me. Even more than Jones' knockout performance, is a story line that winds around and into the depths of the definition of family and of life. The lack of communication that confounds those connected by biology. Expectations met and missed. And the one that sometimes eludes us the most -- forgiveness.

Without giving away the play, it ends with a realization that life is precious, especially as life begins its journey to twilight. That point hit me most when Jones, near the close, suffers a fall, a result of his weak heart and carrying too heavy a load. I, sitting amongst throngs of elderly groups of men and women out for the matinee performance, gasped, wishing/hoping/praying that he would get up and the play wouldn't end with his demise. Before the conclusion was revealed, the effect was already felt. I thought about all of our lives' journeys and the meanings within the dash (that line that separates our entrances and exits in the world.) And, suddenly, there was no protective barrier of "this isn't real" between the stage and my seat. I was forced to think about how long the great ones like Jones would be around to continue to deliver their all (After all, granddad had since passed on eight years ago and we more recently loss Ossie.) It made me think about myself. How could I better go about injecting meaning into the dash? How could I make the time matter? I thought about my sister, who in 12 short years here, somehow found her way. Cancer didn't take away her joy. It didn't take way her laugh. Her love for people. Her light. Her memory.

Wiping my misty eyes, I pored out of the theatre amidst the chattering old ladies who conferred with each other. I walked past the old men, who paused on the sidewalk for a smoke, before making their way to hotels or the subway. I thought about all of them . What they had done in their years. The uncertainty of their futures as day by day their friends pass on. Walking down the street, I aimed to make my seconds, minutes and hours count. They may not be perfect.

But they can be golden.

For my sister (May 11, 1988 - June 30, 2000)


At May 16, 2005 8:27 AM , Blogger Will said...

That post was Golden. My dad passed last year at 76 years of age, and, looking back on his life, what he did during his dash period, spurs me on to be the best man I can be.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts...your words. They are appreciated.

At May 17, 2005 1:32 PM , Blogger SunsyneSmile05 said...

I've been thinking about R. a lot lately. Sometimes I think she's there doing a little *nudge nudge* I was thinking of something to comment on and the Theme from Mahogany started playing. She'll always be missed but lives on in our hearts and memories.

At May 20, 2005 2:06 PM , Blogger Maverick said...

Sorry to hear about your sister...I have silently been checking your blog out and I must say that you have a way with words and communication. I feel that I know how you feel...in a sense, at least...

I enjoyed reading this post...definitely gives you something to think about...


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