Saturday, August 24, 2013

on grieving: who am i from?

On August 22, 2013 around 9 AM, the world lost one of the most amazing, giving, creative people I have ever met.  My former theatre professor and life mentor, Mark Hallen, passed away.  I am still grappling to move forward, as I feel there is a gaping wound in my heart.  It will be a lengthy grieving process -- one that eventually MUST take place in the community which Mark formed.  There are hundreds of us who need to come together to mourn communally.

At 8 PM on August 22, dozens of us gathered remotely -- wherever we were -- to salute to the sun in Mark's honor.  It's hard to explain the significance of the act -- a deep-rooted tradition of Actor's Lab that spanned generations of "Actor's Labradors."  I honestly cannot tell you how important this act was in the process of grieving.  If you were part of it, thank you for joining in.  I am looking forward to doing it in person with you all again someday -- in his honor.

Before Mark passed away, we were writing back and forth, calling, and visiting.  I still feel I did not get to tell him everything I wanted to tell him about his impact in my life -- and although I knew the end was near, I naively thought we would have one last Mark/Rachel pow-wow.  That didn't happen, and I am deeply hurting because of it.  

 I wanted to share with you what I wrote to him -- one of the most important stories I shared -- as I know many of you reading will relate.

To Mark Hallen: 
Mentor.  Friend.  My "father-away-from-home."  
I mourn you.
I miss you.  
I will always love you.
I celebrate the life you led.

It was one of the first days.  We all sat on the black stage -- a big group of people who knew each other and others -- like me -- who were new, starry-eyed, and a little socially anxious.  You walked around an amoeba-like circle, staple drum in hand, and asked: "Who are you from?"  We were to name a few names -- people who influenced us -- who helped us become ourselves.

Did I know then that someday my answer would include you?  If you were to ask me today to name those names, who would those names be?  And although it's hard to choose just a few, I know you would be on the list -- you who helped shape who I am today.

You need to hear these words, Mark.  Because gone are the days when I sit -- teary-eyed or hopeful or whatever recent mood haunted me -- in your office or on the stage floor or even in a smokey-filled room at a party and lay my burdens and joys before you.  Time has shifted our relationship a little, it's true, but your influence has not.  My love and admiration for you has not changed.  

I always knew you cared for not just me, but so many of us -- cared to the point where countless hours were given freely to help us.  How many hours did we spend on monologue after monologue?  And you were there.  There was never a question.  How many hours did you spend writing letters of reference?  And yet you did it.  Never a question.  How many times did you listen to me cry?  And you listened - no matter the hour of day or night.  

And how many times have I thanked you for what you gave?  Not enough.  Never enough.

You have filled my life with understanding and awareness.  With compassion.  With joy.  With prayer.  With love.  And there are so many words that are still locked inside me to express what you have meant to me -- but the words always seem so... not enough.  But these are some words to start.  

Who am I from?  Mark Hallen.  That's who.

Sure Thing by David Ives, Directed by Mark Hallen 2010, Elliott & Rachel Simko

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