Everytime I spend any length of time somewhere, whether it be an apartment, a hotel room, a stage, anything, I have this strange ritual I have to do. When it gets to be time to say goodbye, I have to take a moment to resolve my time there. After I’ve packed everything into my car or the moving trucks, I have to make one last walk through the space, remembering the things that happened there, inhale the spiritual ether one last time, then mentally and often audibly say goodbye. It’s so strange, but it’s something I have to do. I’m moving on, and this space once held a time that doesn’t exist anymore, and I have to close that, hoping that somehow, my time there has left some sort of meaning or deeper mark on the place, other than the hole I punched in the wall, or the carpet that the cats ripped up (which I would have to pay for later).
This is especially true in theatre, as one space can house dozens of shows in one year, thousands of moments for very particular groups of people, then move to the next thing, as if the previous one had never happened. I remember after I had stage managed my last show at Calvin College, the set was torn down and put away in about an hour, and the space literally looked as if the play had never happened. I stood on the staircase looking at the empty stage, then slowly walked down the staircase to the stage, and walked around, briefly reliving the actions of the previous 3 months of my life. The patterns of fabric spinning across the stage. The way it felt when that really tough light cue came up just right. The friendships and/or crushes I had and lost in that brief time, and I knew it would never be the same again. Eventually, I ended up back at my starting position, when my friend Zach walked in behind me and put his arm around my shoulder. I turned to him and said “We had a good run, me and this place.” “Yeah, you did,” he said. And tears moistened my eyes as I said goodbye to that space.
Being in a play is an intense and unique experience that you can’t have any other way. This is fresh on my mind as I just recently finished up a play that I was in, and I was reminded of this. You basically set aside your entire social life to do weird excercises, learn to lose your inhibitions, make a lot of jokes, and gain a very unique connection with a very specific group of people. And then when you have the last performance, you strike the set, and you go on to the next thing. From then on you’ll bump into those people again, and you’ll laugh and reminisce about the time someone’s boob popped out of their dress, or someone forgot their line and you inadvertently jumped to a spot three pages later, or the time someone fell through the barrell, but it will never be the same again. You just cannot recreate the experience again. You may work with certain people again, which is always fun, but that show is over, and you have to move on. That’s when my post-show ritual happens. I have to walk around, relive the moments, and say goodbye to the time that is no more.
I’ve noticed recently that I think some people have this in them more than others. I chatted the other day with a friend of mine who’s the kind of person who can just pack up and leave at any time. It’s not that the place where she lives or the friends she currently has have no meaning to her, but I feel like she would be ready to drop those things and never look back if the chance came. In fact, I think she’s counting on that. We would say “Keep in touch!” but would stop emailing or calling after six months, and that would be it. I’d remember her down the road, and wonder how she’s doing and if she ever thinks of me, knowing that she’ll never be back, and we will never be what we once were.
Needless to say, I’m not that kind of person. Not because I’m scared, necessarily (though I am), but I just couldn’t suddenly leave everything that has meant so much to me. Now it can go to both extremes, where I’m so attached to the things where I am that it paralyzes me from ever taking a chance, and the other extreme, where I’m so ready to leave, that I never really attach that much meaning to the things I encounter. I feel like both extremes are very sad.
I’ve mentioned before the idea of a “regretful malaise” where you don’t regret things you did wrong or anything like that, you just regret that a certain time and place are no longer like they once were, and they will never be the same again. I guess it’s just a human thing to want a certain experience in a certain space to have meant something that will last forever. Will the moments that were so meaningful to me have some sort of impact on whoever occupies the space next? I don’t know, but I’ll keep taking my last moments assuming they do.
7 thoughts on “On Time and Meaning”
I do that too. I don’t have the theatre moments, where the time is so intense and the end so clear, but I have certainly had my share of those moments over the last year. And that wistful feeling when you know that things aren’t going to be the same anymore. The thing you’re leaving is good, and things will be good again, but I feel like I need that moment too, to acknowledge that this place and these events meant something. And coming back to those places is strange too. I recently wrote a poem on related themes.
For me I’ve learned to say goodbye easier. I never want to lose touch (ceasing all communication either through choice or omission) with people but through my time spent in camps I’ve learned to love what I had and let it go.
Camps (christian in particular) serve as an odd case study as you end up living, working, and mostly worshiping with the same group of people (which also normally consists of a smaller group of 3-8) and build intense experiences with them. I’ve been a number of shows, but there is something unique about the work that is deeper and more meaningful(at least for me). I remember my time spent of stage with people, and the green room, and the hours spent in rehearsal, but it doesn’t have the same impact as the nights spent around the campfire watching kids come to Jesus. Anyway, I didn’t mean this to as which is a stronger tie, but just to say that camps have an incredible strong bond that forms amongst staff and in a very concrete location. After several summers, I’ve learned to say goodbye… I actually often end by saying “well have a good life,” knowing full well that I will probably never see this person again.
Place and time are odd things, I still have an urge to hold onto places and moments, I return to place that I’ve been in some meager attempt to re-experience the past, but it often feels in vain. I think Frost put it well with “nothing gold can stay.” Presently, I feel as though all I have is the moment, and each moment comes and goes, leaving me with only memories and a few trappings I’ve gathered along the way.
I have a hard time with goodbyes, too. I think part of it is the sense that after the goodbyes, people go on to live their lives without you. There is a part of me that feels like I’m not all that essential to the world, and that doesn’t like it. But then there is the part of me that knows that God put me here in this moment and in this place for a reason, and even if I never know exactly what it is, He knows, and even if 500 years after I’m dead nobody on earth will remember me, He is the God of the living.
So I’m not indispensable. That is for God alone. And all these places and people I love should remind me that the Person I love most waits for me in the Place I have been promised. I know I’ll see lots of familiar faces there. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the scenery were familiar, too.
I know exactly what you mean- though theatre remains the only place in which I place such importance on time and space. I learned long ago that “home” is found in the people surrounding me, not the place…except in theatre- where its a delicate balance of both. It’s amazing how fleeting something so intense and concrete can feel a few moments after strike. But that’s exactly why I like it. The adreneline, the rush, the life-or-death importance of it all…that’s exactly why I HAVE to do it, and don’t ever think I could work on productions that seem to last forever (Les Mis, Phantom, etc…) Theatre needs a brief explosion of time in order to infuse its importance into the space, people, and relationships involved. And at least one crush…right, Morgan? 🙂
oh, morgan, here is where my mind has been for about a month. i don’t leave vancouver for another 5months and already i mourn it. not to mention the fact that i’m still mourning a little over my loss of grand rapids. and while i agree that it is important to infuse a place with meaning, it can get to a point where you drown yourself in the missing of places–it’s impoortant to make the memories fond and the here and now even fonder.
These are some really interesting thoughts, Morgan. Theatre is a unique experience that encapsulates much of what is strange about life, how our lives consist of intersections of space and time. A good friend of mine at school is writing her dissertation about theatre space, specifically about the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe Theatre, and how they treat space as this sacred thing, as if there’s greater meaning (and I think there is) in performing Shakespeare’s plays in his hometown or on the sight of his old theatre. There are some people invovled there (such as Mark Rylance, the former Globe artistic director) who take space very seriously.
This also makes me think of a C. S. Lewis quote. He said that human beings were meant to be outside of time – the fact that the passage of time has such a significant effect on us is one of the signs of that. The fact that we notice time (“Boy, the time flew by fast” demonstrates that there’s a timeless and eternal aspect to us. He pointed out that if a fish started complaining about how wet the water is, we might start wondering if it didn’t belong in the water. Same with us.
And being in theatre is such a memorable experience. Intense relationships in such a small amount of time, performing something that can never be fully recorded. Impossible to pin down. Makes us want it and remember it all the more.