The highlight of my nonexistent acting career occurred at age four. That was the summer my parents enrolled me, a puffball-haired pixie with a vivid imagination, in a week-long acting class at the local children’s theater. Our production was “The Fool,” an Indian fable about a man who is bamboozled by (and ultimately outsmarts) a band of tricksters, cheats, and mischief-makers. My most significant contribution was loudly proclaiming to the Fool, “That’s a mighty fine lookin’ goat ya’ got there!” as I thumped his prize water buffalo on the flanks. However, the most memorable part of that week was not my bovine-swindling endeavors, but an unexpected interruption that occurred midweek. As I recall, the acting coach had placed all of the students at various locations about the room like squirrelly Chinese checker pieces in order to teach us the basic concepts of “stage left,” “stage right,” and so on. I was patiently portraying “right center” when I noticed that that “stage right,” a friend from my neighborhood, was looking greener by the second. Before I could alert the teacher, it happened. Puke: projectile, odiferous, and the kind of sickly pinkish color that comes from overdosing on Kool-Aid. The next few minutes were a blur of towels, toilets, and antiseptic. When my parents came to pick me up from the acting class, I was nowhere to be found. They panicked. They began frantically searching the lonely building on State Street for their four-year-old, silently cursing the adults in charge of the class for letting me slip away. My parents burst into a remote bathroom to find me, holding “Stage Right’s” hand as she continued to lose her lunch. They looked at me in disbelief, and asked me what in God’s name I thought was doing. I peered up at my parents with the kind of pure solemnity that only children can master, and told them, “I’m here because she’s my friend.” Many years have passed since then, and although on the outside I am significantly more conscious of viruses and bacteria, I like to think I haven’t changed too much on the inside. I still delight in goofing around and being unafraid to get up on stage and buffalo-swindle. I affirm that when you take yourself too seriously, you get tunnel vision, and the little girls in need of a friend will fall into your blind spot. I live knowing that it’s worth the dirt and the germs to enter into sticky situations for the sake of another human, regardless of whether they are as easily adorable and vulnerable as a puking tot, since all people have a spark that makes them a little bit divine. I place my trust in the kind of eloquence children have and the way they simply understand what it means to do good. Finally, I still believe in love, and hope never to forget what I knew instinctively as a four-year-old: that compassion is the root of beauty and the seed of a life well lived.
June 19, 2010