When you’re 17, finding almost anything about yourself that looks like it might be an asset is a good thing. Regardless of whether or not you developed it on purpose, if having it or doing it helped to hide your insecurities and boost your basement level self-esteem, it was to be treasured. I found such a treasure. I discovered that I could take my right hand and push the index finger of my left hand backward until my fingertip touched the back of that same hand. As you would expect, everybody recognized the coolness of that immediately. Well… except for some girls who would just screw up their faces and ask stupid questions like, “Why would you do that?” My notoriety was enhanced in that none of my friends could do it, and when new people came around, it was always a requested addendum to the standard introductions. Some guys thought I might be an alien, and let’s face it, you just don’t get much better stuff said about you than that.
Some things you discover about yourself at 17 don’t go over nearly as well as others. I liked reading, for instance, which I already knew and was OK with, I guess, but then I discovered that I liked reading Shakespeare. I didn’t mean to like it, so it was probably some inherited defect, and I would certainly never have discussed it out loud with anyone. At 17, I was basically trusting of adults, and I don’t recall ever thinking of librarians, in general, as being evil. You’d think you could trust a librarian to be discreet, especially one who noticed something as potentially destructive to a guy’s life as liking Shakespeare. You’d think she would keep it to herself, or at least only bring it up in conversations that take place outside of school, and at least 300 miles away, and with people who don’t know you. Unfortunately, no such consideration was forthcoming from ‘Loose Lips Lucy’ the librarian. She managed to orchestrate an image adjustment for me that I couldn’t have overcome even if I could have bent my finger into a square knot.
The librarian’s excitement over my Shakespeare affliction and the untimely demise of my ego transformed the vision of my future into a barren wasteland that stretched out forever, or at least for another year. But God’s grace emerged in the form of an unexpected and somewhat redemptive turn of events. The English Department decided to bring Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ to life on our own high school stage for the spring theatrical event. Let’s just say that my name came up. My career as an actor blossomed that spring. It unfurled into the zenith of its glory, and faded into oblivion in the course of three productions on that stage. I discovered new definitions of ‘Shakespearean tragedy’ in that process, but also that there is something strangely compelling about the whole ‘actor’ thing.
Everyone fantasizes at times about being someone other than who they really are, someone radically different, someone more exciting, more accomplished, more revered—more loved. Actors get to do all that, to actually be that other person. Well… OK, that’s not quite accurate, is it? They don’t really get to ‘be’ the imaginary character. They might become physically and emotionally involved in the lifestyles of those they portray, but that’s as close as they get. The actors themselves are real, but everything they present is illusion. We know that, yet we’re drawn to it, and to them, anyway.
Actors seem to have such freedom with none of the downsides. They get to be the hero or the heroine without assuming any of the risks they would face if their pretended situations were even remotely real. Actors get to defend the innocent, punish the guilty, rescue the captives, and save the world. They get to kill people, seduce people, blow up buildings, and overcome incredible odds at just the right moment. They get to ‘love’ with no devotion, ‘hate’ with no animosity, cohabitate with no shared commitment, and ‘live’ and work in a world made by set-designers, not architects. Actors get to do it all. They can be everything from serial killers to Jesus Christ and have no accountability for their actions. No wonder so many people want to be them.
We covet the idea of a world where our actions do not have attendant consequences, even though we know in our hearts that such a world doesn’t exist. We cherish the idea of being someone else, without having to really ‘be’ someone else, and therein lies an irritating truth. Actors and actresses must at some point exit the stage, because acting is temporary. Eventually, the last line of the script must be delivered. Then the curtains come down. Then the cameras stop. Lights go off, costumes are discarded, and the makeup that hid all those defects finds its way down some bathroom drain. What awaits them then — a life of waiting for another script, another mask, another stage, and another curtain to hide behind?
Jesus didn’t do well among the ‘Actors’ Guild’ of His day, meaning, of course, the religious leadership. The life He called people to incited opposition from them, because they saw it as a threat. After all, if a ‘star’ Pharisee’s audience began to find fulfillment apart from watching him, and trying to emulate him, then his empty craft would soon be reduced to an idle and irrelevant curiosity. The underlying problem confronting actors in any age is that the life they portray can’t really be lived except in brief little excerpts on a stage. In spite of that, the life of an actor is powerfully compelling, because it seems to offer so much — so much freedom, so many privileges, so much attention, so much pleasure, but mainly, so many ways to hide who we really are, and what our life is really like.
Perhaps we should put the brakes on our covetous desire to be like the actors we adore and ask a pertinent question. Which is more important for us to see? Is it the fantasy they work so hard to reveal, or the truth they work so hard to hide? Jesus countered the ‘thespian mentality’ in His day with a call to be authentic—and He added a warning that all the ‘actors’, then and now, should hear. He said, “…There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known” Luke 12:2-3 (NKJV).
Jesus called us to abandon our pretenses and live life in all its fullness, the way God intended it—to have romance with all its uncertainties, love with all its pain, danger with all its risks, courage with all its fears, and rainbows with all their stormy backgrounds. From the painful reality of a cross, and bearing all our failures and weaknesses, Jesus cries out to offer something greater than any actor’s role. He offers a life that can really be lived, a stage that has no curtain, an audience that fills the world, and a story that never ends. He offers us the glory of today without a mask, and tomorrow without a script. No audition necessary.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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