Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Thursday, October 2, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“Anna Deavere Smith, of course!  I appreciate her opening inclusion of herself with the audience.  But I have no favorites – I don’t want to even consider it, because everyone’s story is so powerful.    I was grateful to Anna for including people who focus on beauty & art, in the midst of so much trauma – but these folks aren’t favorites, I just appreciated the contrast!  (I am increasingly drawn to the beauty of flowers, which I think is partly because I work as a therapist….)  Really, it’s the layering of characters that gives perspective to this piece; I’m struck by how each person’s context – privileged or not – is limited by individual experience & enhanced by the experience of others…”—Alex C

“I think her name was Ingrid.  The Tutsi survivor who talked about grace as releasing someone who has hurt you from your heart.  I liked her because I think, even though she was so eloquent and articulate, that she was still trying to figure out what happened to her and how it has made her now.  I think I learned a lot from that character about how to let go of what can bring you down, and not to hate.”—cmf

“The monk; his joy.”—Kate R.

“Trudy Howell. I felt her message very strongly — I could comprehend it, I could get my mind and emotions around it.  I loved almost all the people in the “Disgrace” section, but the messages in that segment are so large, so explosive, so inconceivable that, while I felt them very intensely, I did not connect with them the same way I connected with Howell’s message.”—Jane T.

“It’s hard to say…so many were so good…she had Samantha Powers and Jessye Norman down perfectly, but I guess I have to say Peter Gomes was my favorite – partly because I know him so well and know that’s exactly what and how he’d speak.”—Ann L.

“Kiersta Kurtz-Burke is appalled. The patients are resigned. The contrast between her emotion and theirs is both telling and poignant.”—Judith J.

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“Keep doing what you’re doing – the political work is vitally important.  Some whimsical suggestions:  therapists & clients!  Gardeners & folks who purchase landscaping services!  Academicians & students.”—Alex C

“Go to Chicago.  South side.  Talk to the teenagers.  Other than that, I think the nuns who do mission work–keeping in mind those who have been murdered for their charity–may have much to say about grace.”—cmf

“Parents of children with special needs/autism.”—Kate R.

“I was expecting to see a segment that touched on someone in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan: it could have been someone over there now, or just returned or just about to go or back here, injured, or back here safe and, at least physically, whole, or family members or…maybe that’s a whole other play…”—Jane T.

“Garbage collectors, lesbian mother, holocaust survivor from Germany, a nurse in neonatal care…”—Lauren S

“Steven Breyer, Eli Broad, Colin Powell….and how about Obama?!  (I’m sorry Ken Galbraith, Julia Childs, David Halberstam and Ken Russert are no longer around)”—Ann L.

“Either a physician who leaves his post to serve in Haiti for three months or a patient in Haiti under his care.”—Judith J.

Have you experienced grace in your life?  How?

“I’m thinking about redefining this word – gratitude & humility are a big part of life.  I feel blessed in my work as a therapist with some rather challenged people, which I continue in despite some rather large challenges myself….  (Anna’s presentation resonates as therapy with an international, global & political scope!)  Being able to give – and have another person accept what I offer – is an experience of grace…  and so is the beauty of appreciating a flower or a work of art.  Relationships are essential to experiencing grace; perhaps art is ephemeral…”—Alex C

“I’m not sure exactly what grace is for me.  But I think I’ve felt it before, because I feel like part of me–or several parts of me–have been patched up in a way.  Like where I started to fray has been mended.  And I guess grace–when it happens–makes you feel “like new” in a way.  Or reinforced.  Broken and then made whole again.  It’s not necessarily a feeling of being born again–because you must wear your scars at least a little–to learn from them and to become stronger in the places where you’ve been wounded–but it’s getting up and carrying on.  It’s the ability to have the strength and the courage to do so.”—cmf

“I think grace is about letting go…letting go of what we clutch onto so tightly–our egos, our usual ways of seeing and being, our wants/needs/desires, what drives us so hard.  Sometimes these things are torn away–by an illness, a death, or a disaster; sometimes we make space for grace by going into nature, or church, or yoga or art; sometimes grace just finds us in a quiet moment; sometimes a connection with another–loved one or stranger, brings us to grace.  For me, sitting with my loved ones when they have died; being around babies; being in nature; doing yoga; and falling in love have brought me into moments of grace.  All the work I’ve done to re-integrate myself from the fragmenting caused by trauma, that’s how I’ve found grace.”—Kate R.

“Three experiences in life stand out for me in terms of experiencing grace: 1.  10 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Short of not having the cancer at all, it was the best scenario.  As I went through treatment, I was buoyed by the love and support not only of my family, but of my friends (close and not so close), my children’s classmates parents, and so on.  2.  6 1/2 years ago, my sister-in-law and my best friend died of cancer within 24 hours of each other.  I was not there when my friend, Karen, died but had seen her that morning: her eyes were wild with pain, she didn’t know me, she couldn’t swallow the water she asked for. I arrived at the house about 10 minutes after she died and went to see her in her bed.  Her hair and her bed were disheveled, but she looked so calm and peaceful.  What do you know? The clichés are true! I was happy that I got to see her like that.  Her children were not home yet and I didn’t want them to see her with all the pill bottles, and so on.  I brushed her hair and arranged her on her pillows. I straightened her bedclothes. I threw out all the pills.   I felt privileged to be there at this time for her.  My third experience: the night before my father was going to have bypass surgery, he called the house expecting to speak to my mother who hadn’t arrived home from the hospital yet.  I talked to him for awhile, assured him that things would be fine (he was very afraid), that a lot of people were praying for him, and loved him.  His last words to me were “I love you” and my last to him were “I love you too.”  He died the next day after the operation, but what grace it was for me to have those be the last words we exchanged.”—Jane T.

“I continue to experience grace through my teaching of photography for 36 years. I hear from former students all the time and their accomplishments and gratitude always moves me.”—Lauren S

“I volunteer a day a week at the oncology unit at the Beth Israel Hospital. People generally say, ‘How depressing, how can you DO this?’ Once I got past death-and its an ongoing issue actually- It’s not just a one-time thing. I have to keep getting it behind me, death that is-loss grief change -people I’ve come to know in a very unusual way- they are confronting death. They are accepting poison given to them by a stranger in hope – such a powerful “topic” and some of them let me right into their heart. How is that for a gift.  All I have to do is listen. I love people’s stories.  Maybe that’s why I love Anna’s work.  For me its about growing your heart, at least that’s as close as I can come to any description of what Anna is driving at- an opportunity to push the animal in me to the side. This is in direct contradiction to my work where I want to keep the animal way ahead of the civilized person in me- to foster and guard the most raw impulses, inclinations out front…I could go on and on about the interesting friction this engenders. Grace vs. Making Art.”—Jaqueth H

“At the moment I am thinking of grace as a physical characteristic. It is something I feel during a tai chi class or when I listen to a vocalist whose voice transports me beyond the present.”—Judith J.

Other comments?

“Thank you!  I think this may be my first blog experience!”—Alex C

“I’m the first-year grad student at Boston University in scenic design.  I thought the play was pleasantly theatrical and inspiring.  Thanks!”—cmf

“I have been a fan of Ms. Smith’s for a long time, and am ecstatic (and that’s not an exaggeration) to have had the privilege to site in the very, very first row, dead center to see her performance.  I loved not having anything between her and me.  Just for your information, here are the characters I thought the play could do without: Cheryl Diaz Myer (I did not get the connection to the idea of grace); Imam Rauf (I am happy that you included an imam, but his message did not connect to me); Samantha Power (not that interesting, moving, and again, message was not strong); Ashgar Rastegar (not that interesting, message not strong).  Others that I really liked: Rev. Cone; the agent and the jockey; all the Rwandans; Susan Youens; Eliz Streb (the connection to grace was tenuous, but the story was hilarious and a much needed leavening (as were the garden lady and the Buddhist monk); Ann Richards.”—Jane T.

“I was seated next to a woman who laughed loudly and often at what seemed appalling to me, talked to her friend during the performance, was distracted and angry at someone who had left their cell phone on, kept leaning into “my space” in short took up more than her share of air/space whatever. The situation could have ruined my own pleasure and concentration but at some point forget which character brought it home to me I thought here it is, plain and simple a chance to open your heart rather than close it down in anger.”—Jaqueth H

“Wonderful moving evening – but a reservation: I detected a degree of mockery in the mimicry – Gomes, Power come to mind, but others whose voices I do not know as well might also be similar. A play about grace should not have had overtones of exploitation of individuals. Does this happen because she gets seduced by her own fabulous technique?”—Fred

“ ‘Amazing Grace’ was theoretical and dry. Even though it was short, I found it an awkward way to introduce the theme.”—Judith J.

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