Last week, Christopher Cartmill, actor, teacher, and friend, sent out an invitation on Facebook for someone to play Polonius at The Hamlet Rave!, an event wrapped around an uncut reading of the play at NYU's Gallatin Center.
Two years ago I would noticed and said nothing, because two years ago I never would have imagined I could do such a thing. No, that's not it, exactly. I could have imagined it, but I couldn't have believed it. Even a year ago, I didn't know Shakespeare's sweet-tasting words would ever be in my mouth, had no idea that I would ever accept the invitation to read Polonius after I'd already done Cordelia.
Last week, however, I said "I will". Actually, I said, "Ooh ooh, choose me pleeeeease", or something equally mature. Being involved in the Rave was an unlooked-for, rich, exciting experience. This dive into what some call the most influential play ever written lit up areas of my brain that were waiting for just such a thing, and I am still a-buzz. For the last few days, I have been thinking about what happens, and what has happened, when I've said yes. So, when I came across this passage in the last pages of Rob Bell's Love Wins, it caught my attention as if it was highlighted in flourescent yellow:
Time does not repeat itself. Neither does life. While we continually find grace waiting to pick us up off the ground after we have fallen, there are realities to our choices. While we may get other opportunities, we won't get the one right in front of us again. That specific moment will pass and we will not see it again. It comes, it's here, it goes, and then it's gone. [It's] vitally important we take our choices here and now as seriously as we possibly can because they matter more than we can begin to imagine.
"Seriously" does not always include "thoughtfully and carefully", however. While I recognize the value of deliberation, the big experiences that have most changed my life for the better resulted from impulsively saying yes first, and panicking later. Sometimes the panic was ppropriate – I don't thave a flawless record of "said yes, was right". But every good yes has led to another, like pawprints in snow. Saying yes to teaching at Ashokan comes most easily to mind as an example. So much joy has entered my life because of it! That joy teaches me in an ongoing seminar on living, so that I knew enough to say yes to teaching at The International Cabaret Conference at Yale, which is where I met fellow-teacher George Hall, who used to run the Central School of Drama in London, and who introduced me to his former student, actor/director Bram Lewis, who asked me to read the part of the Street Singer in The Madwoman of Chaillot. I thought, well, it's a singer. How hard can it be?, and said yes. Which is how I got involved with the Project Rushmore Theatre Company, and played Cordelia in King Lear, which is what gave me the cheek to think "why not Polonius?" and say "choose me!" to Christopher…
…whom I'd met because I'd said yes to organist Harry Huff when he asked me to improvise from the choir loft at a Good Friday service (ten years ago? more?) at Calvary Episcopal Church. Guess who was the reader that day: Christopher Cartmill. How I met Harry is another series of tracks, involving a religious order, a meeting in Albany, and Union Seminary.
Reading Polonius at The Hamlet Rave became a possibility over a decade ago? Perhaps. Did I know that? Nope. Not till I started thinking about it a few days ago.
Perhaps all our lives are etched with a map we can only see in retrospect, if ever. I owe the form my career has taken – and if not the form, certainly the initial routing - to a February blizzard in 1972. All I did was hail a cab. Tim Hauser was the driver. Who could have imagined, on that snowy evening, what would come of a single, simple conversation?
As Hamlet said: The readiness is all.