A friend of mine, a filmmaker, has a wonderful “party story.” I’ve heard him tell it a couple of times at barbecues or in those moments after a show when everyone’s buzzed from the performance and that buzz has made us feel more willing than usual to share something personal.
The story goes like this: He was working on a theater production. He had written the script, picked the actors, coached the dancers, directed, produced, marketed the show run, sold the tickets, lit the stage, performed all various assortment of tasks left falling through the stage cracks that will be left there to haunt the show unless someone who truly cares for the production thinks to come down, lift them up, dust them off, and give them a little pat on the behind as they scurry along to get the job done.
He had done all of this, and it was opening night.
Ticket box has cash for change? Check. Both theater bathrooms are open and ready to go for intermission? Check. The lead has not turned to speed to remedy a vicious internal clock fueled by a cocktail of narcissism and anxiety riddled self-hatred? Check.
Check, check, check. He checked. And checked again. Everything was all set.
So why then? Why was something scratching the back of his brain with t-minus two hours to curtain call? What was that last task buried at the bottom of the dust pile beneath the stage? What had he forgotten to do?
He started his car, which he had been sitting in at the time of his brain-racking trying to remember. He started his car and decided it was nothing. He started his car and then it hit him.
He began to cry.
Not just cry. Sob. Weep. Openly Dawson Cry on the Dawson Creek.
The theater production he had been working on so fastidiously, produced with such purpose, was a play about his father. His father had died years ago when my friend was still a kid, leaving him to grow up quickly and become the “man of the house.”
My friend had written the script as a way to remember his father and explore the themes of loss and family and responsibility and imaginary notions of time.
The play had already begun its work and he didn’t even know it. He couldn’t recognize that its purpose was already ticking away inside him but he had busied himself so steadfastly to the tasks on the to-do list at hand that he hadn’t had to face it. Yet. Until now.
(This next moment is always my favorite part of the story because my friend will pause between the moment he reveals the ugly-car-crying and the following line, which he delivers with such drama and humor, it eases the blow of why he was crying in the first place:)
“Suddenly I remember what I forgot to do. I FORGOT TO FEEEEEEEEL!”
We all laugh. He forgot to feel. Yes, of course! His forgetting to feel in this story is so rational. Forgetting to feel, it’s so relatable it’s laughable. Distracting ourselves is what forms the crosshairs in the scope of first world human coping.
Functional workaholism is our greatest collective high, especially now with technology and transportation and so many options available to us that it feels like everyday we’re small idiots in the hall of the ghost of Christmas Present’s feast, getting it all wrong, all the time, picking the dumbest path among juicy riches we could just reach out and touch if we saw it all differently, if we weren’t so regrettably ourselves.