more than you will ever know
I think the key to many things is strength. It might not be the best definition but I think that strength (at least in terms of personal convictions, survival and passion) is the ability to withstand pressure over time. That sounded a bit like a mathematical equation. When I feel kicked in the teeth personally or professionally I try to remember that I have the ability to make it through. While the love and support provided my family and friends has been a helpful and necessary part of my life, I often find myself even more grateful for the lessons about fighting and sustaining. The stories of injustice and the lessons about how the world can be ridiculously, mind-bendingly unfair. They have made me braver in my own journey and also a fierce (sometimes too fierce) fighter.
I wrote before about causes and societal maladies that keep me up at night but I find that, just when I am in danger of feeling beaten by the world or risking the slide into selfishness, something comes along to remind me that 1) I am stronger and 2) the world has tougher struggles than I will probably ever see. And perhaps part of my responsibility as an artist is to learn all I can about the human condition and hell doing something about it is part of my responsibility as a person on the planet.
I could probably generate a pretty hefty list but there are two organizations that I’ve been thinking about lately. And they make me feel both better about the world and angrier than I ever been that they need to exist. The first one is The Innocence Project. The reason I discovered it is because (yes, here we go again) there was a story on the news (okay and it WAS 60 Minutes again). The very short version is that a gentleman named Alton Logan spent 26 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. He was finally released when an affidavit was presented by two Illinois attorneys saying that a client of theirs committed the murder. They had known about it years earlier when the client confessed (BEFORE LOGAN WAS EVEN CONVICTED) but said they were sworn to secrecy by attorney-client privilege until that client died in 2007. I’ll give you a minute.
Now I couldn’t sleep after I watched this story. Now I understand the court system and I get lawyers but… how?! How could they sit on that information and live with themselves. And how did Alton Logan survive 26 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit? He was at home asleep, as was the testimony provided by Alton and his family at the trial. It reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption. I love that movie but I cannot help but think about how you survive the time, especially if you are innocent. How you find the strength, alone. The remarkable ability to withstand pressure over time. In the worst circumstances. And I suppose some people don’t survive. I don’t mean the killings and suicides in jail, although those happen. I mean the atrophy of their souls. The way their actual being changes, and morphs into something else.
And, as it always seems to be, Alton Logan is quiet and soft-spoken. He kept saying that he simply couldn’t believe that those lawyers could sit on the information. I try not to hate anyone (with a few theoretical historical exceptions of course) but I have such loathing for them. To place your job (because they would probably be disbarred) above the truth, especially if you are a DEFENSE ATTORNEY. Isn’t that what you stand for?! Don’t you take some kind of oath about truth and justice?! Clearly, I’m never not going to be angry at them.
The other organization was brought to my attention when it helped a dear friend of mine. It’s called It Happened to Alexa. It’s an organization that helps provide financing so rape victims’ families are able to attend the trials. It was started by this couple whose daughter was raped during her freshman year at school in Boston. Now this girl was strong enough to call the police, get a rape kit and report her crime. It’s something that many people aren’t able to do. Especially considering that the victim is often put on trail just as passionately as the defendant. This couple was able to fly back and forth from Buffalo and be there for their daughter during everything. They quickly realized that it was a virtual necessity, although probably not often an option. And a rape victim left alone during a trial greatly decreases that mathematical strength equation.
So they pay for people to be there. To support someone going through a horrendous experience that takes more courage than anyone probably thinks they can muster. How do we find this in ourselves, the ability to keep going when things are so painful and challenging? When all is fragmented and the life we used to know is an almost mocking memory?
I honestly think that we all have this kind of strength. And maybe we don’t find it until we have to use it. I have the ridiculous tendency to get rather overwhelmed and stressed out about small things. I catch myself getting all fired up because my printer will not connect up with my computer’s new operating system. It’s often laughable and really silly. BUT. I can handle the big stuff. I know that about myself. Something in me snaps into place and I can be a fighter. I am able to look at a terrifying situation and steel myself for its impact. I can take it. And I’m not sure if anyone taught me that, or if it’s just my own genetic equation. But I know, when that happens, that I am not alone. I have a support system standing behind me. So maybe strength is more than I originally though. Perhaps it is the ability to withstand pressure over time plus faith. And I think that faith can be a variety of things- belief in yourself, courage, love from others, whatever fuels you. And so when I give my support to organizations like The Innocence Project (244 exonerated so far) and It Happened to Alexa, I am part of that faith. And in my own little way I am part of something more. Or I’m trying to be. Something that says we are stronger together than we are alone.
And to bring this all back to my chosen art form, I guess that’s why we sit in the dark and watch stories unfold theatrically or cinematically. We are there to serve as a witness. To share in the journey. To laugh and cry and be a part of something bigger. Yes, it’s “fake” but not really, it’s a reminder of how alike we are deep down. There’s an expression that I often say under my breath when I pass someone sleeping on the street or begging for money on the train “There but for the grace of God go I.” Because one moment, one event can change everything. Now the God in that sentence means many things and please insert your own as I would never want to dictate or pretend to understand your heart. Perhaps it all of those things in one, some type of spiritual entity and also just the indescribable power that seems to hold you up in your weakest moment. Perhaps it’s all of us together, and that space in between.
Take care out there and be bold. I know you have it in you!
Things I’m Digging This Week: I think the above is enough…
Dream Role: Lydia in Charles Mee’s Big Love (I’m in a benefit performance of this play this Sunday night at 7:30pm, more information at http://www.mtworks.org/)