London wrap up: A very Chris haunting

Yesterday was the third anniversary of Chris passing away. I laughed today thinking he probably decided things weren’t funny any more and he’d had enough with the world’s dwindling sense of humor so he said peace out. Living your last years under Trump, a pandemic, and a horrible botching of the finale of his favorite show could do that. Oh and the debilitating, fatal disease I guess too. 

Chris was always joking around. The first thing he said to me after he told me about his diagnosis was to promise to not stop having fun with him, no matter what he looked like or how hard it got. Nothing was ever the end of the world. The bad things were only ever an opportunity for a funny story and a chance to grow as a person. 

I don’t know about you, but it’s been hard to maintain that sense of fun and humor lately. A couple gut-punches right before our trip to London really knocked the wind out of me. And this trip, and writing about it, really gave me breath. So thanks for anyone who reads and supports. I appreciate your indulging me and my writing about Chris and the craft of theater and storytelling. The intention has always been to extend my communing with the artistic philosophies he espoused and perhaps provide that for people who read this too. 

So on that note, this spooky thing happened to me on day one of the trip. 

I was up late reading Chris’ blog, I felt a very strong impression from Chris. His own voice in fact. Surprisingly clear. 

He said, “Open Your Heart. You’ve got to open your heart.”

This concept was not floating around in my mind at all. Mostly I was planning out things I wanted to eat and watch in London and ruminating in some bummer situations, hoping inspiration would strike on what to do next or what to write next or how to just be better at, well, everything. But I heard his voice and it stopped me in my tracks — Ok Chris I get it, you always joked about haunting me and what not but you couldn’t give me a day to shake off the jet lag? #hauntthirst

Open your heart. You’ve got to open your heart.

I suddenly remembered that Chris had this sign pinned up across the wall in his office: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

It was one of his favorite sayings. As most of you know, it originated from the TV show Friday Night Lights, which he loved. I played a lot of sports, including football, and it was nice to have someone I looked up to in the arts appreciate the life lessons sports can teach you. Thank you Jason Katims and all the writers of FNL! (Notice how few A.I. writers I’m thanking right now #WGASolidarity)

I’m not religious anymore but I am spiritual. That spirituality was in me long before my baptism or LDS mission and it’s still here. The challenge for me was to discover that no one has authority on spirituality. No one controls access to miracles. Or prayer. Or communing with passed-on loved ones or god or spirit guides. There is no worthiness test. That may sound simple to most of you, but I can assure you for those of us who grew up LDS, it is not. 

There was some time after I left the church where I began to believe this life was all there was. And that was ok. Atheism has its own beauty I think. But call this voice I heard whatever you want; God, The Universe, The Spirit, The Holy Ghost, a Spirit Guide, or even decide that it’s just my own subconscious finding the best advice for myself using the most familiar and helpful voice to get there. That’s fine. 

But I believe it was Chris. He hit me with a classic Chris sideswipe truth bomb. That thing where you ask your wisest best friend for advice in a situation and they hit you with something you totally didn’t see coming. Wisdom like this takes clear eyes to see. I miss Chris’ clear eyes. 

When things are not going the way I want them I have a tendency to take extreme but unhealthy ownership of it. I think it must be a flaw in me that this friend treated me this way, or this person stole credit for my work, or this family situation, or this employer treating me like garbage, or hardships in co-parenting, etc. I just keep singing, It’s me hi I’m the problem it’s me! and I tend to close off from the world to protect myself. To not trust. To not share. To not open up. Even with good things in my heart I wonder, Why share them? Why put them out there if they’re just going to get misunderstood, misconstrued, or stomped on?

On top of this sentiment, it feels like the world is getting so much angrier. At risk of sounding like my grandma (my grandma was actually the hardest hardass and never complained but you get the intent), people seem on edge and everything feels more violent and just is more violent. It seems like people drive more aggressively, speak harsher and have little to no patience for human differences anymore. I think there are systemic factors to blame for this but that is another post. And I’d be lying if the ratcheting up tension wasn’t affecting me too. 

But I was reminded that closing off your heart just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think Chris was giving me a timely reminder to show people your heart. And to practice making it full of good. And if the eyes are a window to the soul, don’t be afraid to look them in the eyes and show it. I think anyone who knows Chris knows exactly what I’m describing. 

Which is pretty terrifying to practice! Living like this, especially these days, takes a lot of courage. 

So I’ve decided I’m going to be a little more fearless. I mean, this Lion iconography is everywhere in London for a reason. 

I started thinking more about having my heart open to others unconditionally. I started thinking more about what it really means to love myself in all of my flaws; how I partner, how I parent, how I friendship, how I write. To come from a place closer to my heart; from as honest and accurate a place I can. Do this and let things fall how they may. And it’s been transformative.

On the night before Chris passed away, I had been working on a stoopid little bit to do outside his window to make him laugh (it was June 2020 and I hadn’t seen him in person for a long time). He had messaged me a few days earlier saying he may be close to the end. So I was trying to make good on that promise to keep making him laugh. I grabbed a wig and boombox, practiced this choreographed dance he and I had made up during long rehearsal days for Eurydice back in 2011, and showed up outside Chris and Lisa’s living room window. Lisa came out and grabbed me, telling me to just come in the back yard to say last goodbyes. Chris was going. I’m grateful she pulled me in. I’m grateful I was lucky enough to be there. I’m grateful Chris made me make that promise. Because sometimes things are so hard they seem like the end of the world. But they’re not. They’re just an opportunity for a funny story and a chance to grow as a person.  

One one of our last days in London, Caitlin and I were gazing up at Cleopatra’s Obelisk on the Thames and I remarked that London seems like such a beating heart of the world. All these veins of art and history ran right through this vibrant, wild, resilient city. And still do. London was a trip thirteen years in the making for me and now that it’s over I have no doubt I was there when I was supposed to be, with the person I was supposed to be there with. Because, among many other reasons, no one practices this advice Chris gave me better than her. And also she laughs at my dumb jokes. 

Three years later I finally got to London, feeling as low as I was, hoping to touch again that spark that propelled me this far. I was hoping for creative inspiration and got advice on how to be a better person. Which is so Chris, right? 

Probably because he knows Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. 

Alright back to something less serious for Chris’ sake. I’m sure he wants to get back to whatever bit he’s doing. 

I miss you, man.